Whenever someone wants to understand another individual’s motive for a statement or question, they may request further clarification.
The question “Why do you ask?” is not rude. It can be an important question to understand the thoughts of kids and to change the direction of a conversation if someone has asked inappropriate details or tries to bully someone.
People Asking Personal Questions
People sometimes ask questions that go beyond personal boundaries. For example, they may ask if you want to have children, where your family is from, or about your age. If a conversation was already based on a topic like that, it may not be as inappropriate.
However, if you’re talking about something else and a person just asks you that, it can be perceived as rude.
In that case, you may want to ask them why they asked that. It allows you to deflect and you can change the direction of the conversation entirely, steering it away from personal areas that are none of their business.
If you’re asked the question in a crowd, that may be ideal, especially when you don’t want to say anything that could embarrass someone who genuinely is unaware of the impropriety.
It also gives you time to gather your thoughts. As they try to explicitly state why they asked you a question of that nature, you can process your feelings. You can be more confident about the next step that you take in the conversation after gathering more information.
You may be shocked that they would ask such a personal question but want to react in a measured manner. The first thought that comes to mind may not be as polite as you might wish. You may react with an angry thought or one that insults the person.
Asking for more information allows you to cool down and say something that is socially appropriate.
Asking about their motive for asking also allows them to withdraw the question. You can let them know that you don’t think their question is polite. You can also make sure you’re assessing them correctly, so you don’t mistake a poor verbal filter for microaggression.
Asking someone why they want to know is appropriate when the person asking the question knows the answer already.
Their body language, tone, or facial expression may let you know that they simply want to display passive-aggressive behavior. For example, you may do a medical test, and two minutes after receiving your result, someone walks up with a smirk on their face and asks if you’ve ever done that type of test.
The question may seem innocent but the timing and the person’s body language, indicate that you cannot approach it without further investigation. Calmly asking why they would want to know puts them on the spot, since they’re not supposed to have access to confidential medical information.
Some questions are just designed to make you feel bad. The asker knows what they are doing and they’ve done it to others before. Asking them to explain their motives can put a stop to their passive-aggressive behavior, at least with you.
These petty questions also fall in the category of sea lioning if they are asked repeatedly. They are a form of harassment and are geared towards provoking you or making you lose your cool. Asking someone about their motives makes it hard for them to keep up the appearance of innocence when they’re focused on provoking you.
It’s important to be aware of all the things that are happening around you. If you’re in a public situation, for example at a press conference, you may find that people constantly ask the same question to make you lose your cool.
When you maintain your stance and don’t cave, they’re less likely to keep using the same tactic to try to cause discomfort.
Questions From Young Children
Very young children are just learning more about the world and questioning is a part of that process. Sometimes adults need to say, “Why do you ask that?”.
This should be done even with seemingly superficial questions. You’ll want to be sure that you’ve thoroughly addressed any queries that the child has.
By asking your questions about their motives, you can learn exactly how they are seeing the world. This gives you the information you need to guide them and correct any misunderstanding that exists.
For example, a young child may see a big red truck parked in front of their school. They may ask if the school was on fire. After asking what caused them to ask that, you’ll learn that they think all red trucks are fire trucks. You can teach them the difference, show them how to look for signs of a fire, and teach them about fire drills.
Young children start asking questions out of curiosity at about age four. In 1970, Courtney B. Cazden showed that children’s questions have an important role to play in their education.
While the sheer number of questions that a child asks can feel overwhelming, adults should be aware that their brain is developing rapidly and information is needed to fill the gaps in knowledge that exist.
Be Prepared For Gas Lighting
With gaslighting, people use various techniques to try to make you doubt your reality. This type of behavior is common in abusive relationships at work and home. By making you question your reality, the manipulator hopes to gain power over you.
Abusers who use gaslighting will ask questions about the things that are important to you. Their questions will be structured in a way that is meant to hurt you.
For example, if they know your children are important to you, they may ask, “You don’t think that little Jimmy will ever amount to anything, do you?”
In this type of situation, they hope to put you on the defensive. They want you to doubt your child, doubt your love for them, and doubt whether your confidence in your child is misplaced. In reality, you have every reason to give your child unconditional love.
Asking them why they would ask a question like that shows them that you know exactly what they are trying to do. It shows that their question is faulty. Instead of going down the path, they want to take you on, where they can distort your reality, you question their motives.
It’s important to do this early in any relationship. However, it’s not always possible and sometimes it’s after months or years that you realize whenever you’re around that person, they always ask questions that leave you feeling insecure and confused.
Perhaps this has left you even questioning your value system. Someone may ask, “Do you think you’ll succeed at that job if you aren’t willing to lie a little?”.
Asking why they would ask that, puts the burden of supporting a faulty idea on them. It’s not rude to pry further into their question.
You’re Never Obligated To Answer
Some people don’t know where their boundaries are and they may unintentionally ask questions that hurt you or cause offense. For example, if you’re visually impaired, someone may ask if you ever plan to have children. That’s not their business.
Similarly, a person might ask a military veteran who lost their leg in combat if it still hurts. That’s not their business. Some people simply don’t care about how their questions might make others feel or what kind of memories they may stir up.
It’s okay to draw a line and say, “That’s none of your business”, or “I’m not going to answer that”.
If you see that the person is genuinely clueless, asking them why they would want to ask can open up a conversation about the appropriateness of their questions. It may allow them to check themselves in the future and avoid causing someone else unnecessary pain.
Sometimes inappropriate questions may even be asked on the job or during an interview. The power dynamic that can exist in these situations makes it even worse.
It’s okay to ask why the interviewer, your boss, or a client asked that question. Some people don’t know that certain questions are inappropriate in a professional setting.
You’ll have to stay vigilant and always be prepared to address inappropriate questions in a civil but firm tone. Even if you’re upset by the question, don’t let it rattle you. Subtly awkward questions can cause you to become confused and asking for clarification can help you to understand the intent of the other person. Keep the conversation as positive as possible.
Don’t jump the gun unnecessarily in any conversation. Take the time to understand exactly what a person is asking and why they are asking it. Asking about their reasons for a particular question can sometimes help you to clarify any areas in which there’s a misunderstanding. It can also help you to establish parameters for a healthy way of relating to each other in a personal or professional setting.
Katie Holmes is a senior author at everyday-courtesy.com with over 15 years of experience in marketing and psychology. As a freelance consultant, she also supports companies and executives in overcoming communication challenges. Katie is a passionate digital nomad working on her first book on the art of communication.