Saturday, December 11, 2010

Yes, No, N/A.... and Option 4

I learned something new yesterday. Something I never thought possible. So, I thought I would share.

Say you have a proposal: I propose we go see Harry Potter tonight.

You have FOUR possible responses to this.

YES! Let's go! The "Yes" response demonstrates preference, as we know. It also implies that if someone else nixes it, you might be sad. And they might have to apologize to you for nixing the plan. If the ultimate conclusion is against this, you could be owed a "You pick the movie next time." If you win, and we do go see Harry Potter, then you might owe someone else a favor for following your whim, rather than hers. If the movie is good, you get "I told you so" rights. If the movie is bad, you can either hide behind your love of cheesie movies, or you can accept your own mistake. Yes is a very definite position.

No! The "No" position has all the complexity (in reverse) of the Yes position, but it has one key difference. You can say No without offering an alternative. You can say "no, I hate Harry Potter" and also say "there is only crap in the theaters now," and you've basically shut down the conversation. Note that even if you are out-voted, and you do go see Harry Potter, you will probably be able to find some reason why it is a bad movie (complaining is easy), and if you're hellbent to be right, you will be. And, you could spoil everyone's fun. Or you could change your mind and admit to some failure of predictive powers. No is also a definite position.

I'm Indifferent. This is a really powerful stand. It seems like the wuss answer. But, it isn't. Think of it this way. You're never right. You're never wrong. Whoever wins, you're supportive. If you are truly indifferent, it pays to be explicitly indifferent. You neither gain nor lose favors by staying out of the decision. Sometimes, it pays to be indifferent even if you aren't. For example, if you were the husband being dragged to the Harry Potter movie, knowing full well that the wives were hashing this out, you might simply adopt a position of indifference simply because you have no power to influence the outcome. If casting a vote has no meaning, it makes sense not to cast a vote.  We're typically decisive and vocal people, so this option is not used nearly enough.

And the mysterious Option Four.. which I recently saw executed with glee...

Both. You can take both sides. To argue them at the same time is a rhetorical feat, but to argue them in rapid succession is reasonably straightforward. OMG, yes, I heard it was great! I've bought tickets to the 7pm show! .. and then by the time you're at dinner before the movie... I read more about it, it's not really true to the book, this might totally be a waste of money. The nice thing about this stance is that you are always right. The indifference stance is always wrong. The both stance is always right. Now, you might be accused of not having the courage of your convictions - but that's not usually a big deal these days. And you might be accused of not doing your research before buying the tickets, but that too can be explained away. You've supported both the Yes! person and the No! person, you've lodged a prophesy of doom, and the plan goes on unfettered.

This is, in some say, a very very powerful position to take.

Now, consider this isn't about a movie at all. What if it's a proposal at work for a new project? What if it's a health care bill? what if it's a reform of a program or service or company? What if it's a plan for christmas? Up the stakes on the question at hand, and the weight of each of these options becomes a lot more significant. I'm noodling on a few things now..

a) Why does option 4 seem so wrong, viscerally? Indifference seems honest. "Both" seems morally questionable. I can't figure it out. Maybe "both" without malice is okay... conscious vs. instinctive strategies have different implications. That's why lawyers worry about intent.

b) How can you delicately negotiate with a Both actor? Calling people on their wishy washiness is rarely productive...

1 comment:

Capt. BS said...

As someone who's chronically indecisive about most things, I'd like to posit that, by introducing the passage of time into our classification scheme, option 4 can be subdivided into options 4a and 4b, which differ radically from one another.

Option 4a is the change-of-heart scenario you've described, in which someone goes from "Yes" at one moment to "No" at another, perhaps due to the exposure of new information, the phase of the moon, etc... or no reason at all. The person who opts for this option (intentionally or not) is only expressing one opinion at any given time, but establishes that the opinion is flexible and subject to revision.

Option 4b is ambivalence -- which, as anyone who used to read the dictionary during church knows, is not synonymous with indifference, but rather the condition of feeling diametrically opposing emotions about something at the same time. The person who chooses this option is unable to decisively agree to "Yes" or "No" because they are able to make strong cases for both sides, or are the victim of analysis paralysis, or are just an indecisive person. Typically, option 4b is *not* chosen by those who are politically-motivated in their decision-making progress (option 4a is more convenient for them), but those who are genuinely unable to reach a decision in any sort of timely matter.

I'd also like to point out that there's an option 5, which is to reject the validity of the question itself. Taking this stance is often politically-motivated (think Saddam Hussein repeatedly rejecting the authority of the Coalition court in which he was tried on the grounds that he was the President of Iraq) and sometimes an outright cop-out (think just about anything that happens in Congress these days), but there are some cases where its invocation is valid. For example, what if I asked you, "Does the fact that you're a Nazi sympathizer mean you have a copy of Mein Kampf that I could borrow (and burn)?" Assuming you are not a Nazi sympathizer, this is a preposterous question that does not necessarily merit a response, but if you were to respond, it would not be with a "yes" or "no" answer, nor would it be with indifference, nor would it be with ambivalence or indecision, but rather, something to the efect of, "I'm not a Nazi sympathizer. WTF are you smoking?! Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a magic dragon to puff."