paris street style

Avoid the Why.

*Image via Asia Typek.

I loved your comments on my post about handling rude questions and comments. One Magpie suggestion that has really stuck with me the past few weeks:

“I am a big fan of the ‘what do you mean by that?’ I see that question giving the speaker the opportunity to clearly state his or her opinion and intention, rather than me connecting perhaps nonexistent dots.” – Alice

This dovetails beautifully with something Mr. Magpie recently told me about defusing knotty situations at work. When he finds someone is bristling or defensive, he avoids “why” questions and instead aims to get to the bottom of things by asking “what” or “how.” “Why questions put people on the defensive and imply judgement,” he explained. So instead of “Why did you submit this request without going through the proper protocols?” it might be, “What was the process you used here? Help me understand,” or “How did you approach this request?” “What” and “how” indicate an almost neutral curiosity about the steps taken; “why” comes off as accusatory.

The Alice Question (TAQ — “What do you mean by that?”) achieves the same effect. This question gives people the benefit of the doubt, or at least creates some smoke screen through which you can escape without having to directly respond to something untoward or uncomfortable. It buys time I often need to digest the question without leaping into something overly-agreeable to the point of self-deprecatory.

Have you tried this tack, whether in the workplace or in personal matters? Any other advice on maneuvering through sticky interpersonal situations?


+My J. Crew mules arrived and they are absolutely adorable. Love the tiny kitten heel. Go perfectly with breezy summer dresses!

+These cordless, rechargeable lamps are such a fab option for outdoor dining!

+These $120 d’orsay flats are insanely cute.

+These popular cashmere wraps were just restocked — they always fly! I love the reversible colors. Perfect for throwing on over a dress when chilly, or for travel days!

+Seriously fun, under-$100 sundress. Love both colors!

+I can’t stop thinking about these brown linen pants.

+Such a unique dress — spectacular!

+For some reason I’m all of the sudden wanting everything navy when it comes to fitness. Love these bike shorts, this tank, these APLs, and (for schlepping essentials to/from) this phone sling.

+This on-trend crochet bag is on sale for under $50 plus an extra 40% off! More bags along these lines here.

+I’m obsessed with this Shun utility knife. It’s perfect for slicing bread and tomatoes in particular.

+Daphne Wilde is running a surprise sale! You may need to be an email subscriber to access. I love this elegant shirtdress and this tiered one!

+These new after-bath wraps are a clever innovation. I usually wear Eberjey rompers because I get so hot a terry towel while heat styling my hair.

+Speaking of heat styling: I am still obsessed with my upgraded Revlon 1-Step 2.0, which I bought in January of this year! I can’t live without this. It’s worth upgrading if you have the O.G. version — the 2.0 is slimmer/lighter weight (and therefore easier to hold and maneuver) plus it is quieter and does not get as hot.

+I need this chunky necklace.

+Have been hearing rave reviews about this $7 tee.

+Adorable bucket bag.


  1. Love your posts and this is such a valuable lesson/idea! I am going to practice Mr Magpie’s suggestion on what/how today during a meeting w/ a co-worker.

    On the J Crew mules do they make the ‘clacking’ sound when you walk or are they fairly secure on the foot?

    1. Let me know what you think of the “avoid the why” approach…!

      I would guess that these mules do clack…I don’t own this pair but don’t think I’ve ever found a pair of mules that don’t clack!


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