Do you recognize this guy? That’s Mr. Greenway from the movie “Elf”. He’s here to provide an example of the question “and?”. You might have seen the movie and know exactly what I’m talking about. He sets a deadline for a project that his employee, Walter Hobbs, seemingly has an issue with. When hearing the deadline, December 24th, Walter exclaims that that’s Christmas Eve, implying that perhaps there’s been a mistake? Or perhaps they could choose another deadline? To this, Mr. Greenway replies with a question. Walter says “that’s Christmas Eve”, Mr. Greenway says “and?”.
The question “and?” implies that whatever was just said is somewhat irrelevant. It’s to say that what was just said is simply a meaningless fact or an excuse to get around something. Now let me be clear, Mr. Greenway is a despicable character and his leadership style is unacceptable everywhere but in the role of a villain in a wonderful Christmas movie, but I still have a bold statement to make: he has a point.
Allow me to explain. Mr Greenway’s company has been underperforming the entire 4th quarter of the year and is at risk of falling off a cliff if they don’t turn things around in Q1 of the new year. Mr. Greenway does not live in New York (where headquarters are) and he happens to be back in town on the 24th of December for what can only be a brief visit over the holidays. There really is not another time that will work for them to review the plan to turn the company around in Q1. The question “and?” basically says we have no other choice but to get this done, no excuses.
The moral of the story is that if you ever give someone the opportunity to ask you “and?”, there’s probably something you could have said or done to prevent it. “And?” is a question you never want to be asked. It means that whoever you’re talking to is either uncertain or unsatisfied with what you’ve said. Walter Hobbs had been doing a terrible job all year and was probably at the end of the rope with Mr. Greenway. There were no more excuses he could make that would be legitimate to a boss who wants nothing but the results he hasn’t been getting of late.
To me, Walter had two viable options in response to being faced with the “and?” (it ended up being a third option in the movie, which was to quit his job, but let’s pretend I wrote the script). Firstly, he can have a moment of realization that he’s screwed up and has no excuse not to make things right. He has no response to make when faced with the facts other than okay let’s get this done by the 24th even though I want to spend Christmas Eve with my family. He’s lost his authority in the company, his credibility is shot and if he doesn’t deliver, he’s likely out of a job. Hey, it sounds harsh, but this is the position he put himself in and as the great speaker Jim Rohn once said, “taking full responsibility of ones actions is the purest form of maturity”.
But it’s Christmas Eve! Nobody should have to work on Christmas Eve right? Well, here’s the second option I think Walter could’ve utilized. Present a better alternative than meeting on the 24th. I don’t mean a sleazy make believe solution that won’t actually come to fruition, I mean a legitimate plan so that Mr. Greenway is satisfied AND Walter can spend time with his family on Christmas Eve. Here’s some ideas of what that might look like:
- What if Walter could enthusiastically hop on board, say absolutely we need to get this done and Mr. Greenway, I’ll make up for this terrible year with my work on this because that’s what you pay me to do. However, I promised my family we’d spend the day together, so what if I have everything prepared for you on the 23rd and email you a comprehensive plan that should bring us results by January?
- What if Walter could swallow enough pride and realize that in order to keep his job that pays the bills and feed his family, he has to work on Christmas Eve? What if he did that, went home to his family that night, had an up front conversation with them and promised to make up for it on New Years Eve (or something like that)? He could bring his family into his dilemma and presumably, they would support him.
- What if Walter simply agreed to work on Christmas Eve without question with the internal thought that between now and then he’d come up with a different idea that would free up his day on the 24th. In this scenario, Walter would be betting on himself to find a win / win solution for himself and Mr. Greenway. It’s hard to object on the spot when you have no leg to stand on, but a confident person knows what they’re capable of and can safely bet on themselves. A confident person also knows when to admit defeat and if a win / win solution doesn’t become viable, Walter would have to just go to work on the 24th, explain things to his family and be confident that he can make it right later on.
- What if Walter could go to Mr. Greenway’s office before the 24th? He could say hey Mr. Greenway I know you can’t come in until the 24th but what if I can get to your office on the afternoon of the 22nd? I’ll have everything prepared for you to review and this way you don’t have to spend time with me over the holidays.
At it’s core, in every circumstance, the “and?” question can be avoided by two things: clear communication and self awareness. As previously mentioned, someone asks “and?” when the communication they’ve received is unclear or unsatisfying. To eliminate one of those issues, make sure your communication is clear. Don’t spit out irrelevant facts at the end of your sentences, pause a moment before you speak to think, understand the context of the conversation and make sure you’re concise if you don’t want any confusion.
When it comes to someone being unsatisfied with what you’ve said, self awareness is key. You have to know the difference between an excuse and a reason. Here’s a hint, 9/10 times you think it’s a reason, it’s an excuse. Know yourself enough to understand how you talk to yourself, how you legitimize things and why you think the way you do. When something comes out of your mouth, you need to know why it did, or at least be able to trace back where it came from. Spend time reflecting on your own behaviours and actions to get a grip on why you are who you are. Really, Walter should know exactly why he’s in the basement with Mr. Greenway. Walter should be pretty aware that who he is in the company is not a valuable asset based on his behaviours. If he spoke with that knowledge in his mind, he wouldn’t have been asked “and?”.
You can’t give yourself reasons for not doing well, reasons for being late, reasons why your friend thinks you’re unreliable. If you tell me you’re late because there was traffic I’ll say “and?”. Didn’t you think that in a world of 8 billion people there might be some of them travelling at the same time as you? If you tell me you’re not doing well in your business because the economy is bad I’ll say “and?”. The economy is bad for everyone and some businesses in your industry are thriving. If you tell me your friend thinks you’re unreliable because you smoke too much I’ll say “and?”. Are you actively doing anything about that? To understand this better, separate the 2 facts and make them individual sentences like this:
- I’m late. There was traffic.
- I’m not doing well in my business. The economy is bad.
- My friend thinks I’m unreliable. I smoke too much.
Each bullet point above has two distinct, factual sentences. Is one caused be the other? Arguably, but don’t put yourself in a position to be in an argument because that’s a very frustrating way to live. Accept facts as facts and be aware of your own patterns enough to realize when you leave someone with a clear opportunity to ask you “and?”.