Irrelevant Question

I teach post-graduate students as a visiting faculty in a college. Some students have been coming late to the classes – not just to my classes, but for all the classes. I tried different tricks, in vain, to motivate them to be punctual. This has been an irritant though the students are very well behaved otherwise.

This morning, a student was late by an hour. When I asked reasons for his coming late, he said “traffic jam.” I got annoyed and told, “Don’t give lame excuses,” in front of all his class-mates and then continued teaching.

What else can a student answer? He could give any one of some other stock “reasons,” which I would interpret as “excuses.” In this context, he could not have satisfied me with any answer. Also, he does not have a choice not to answer and annoy me by ignoring my question.

The situation and the strain was my creation. I knew, but did not then think, that the student has no satisfactory answer. My question did not seek any information, but expressed my dissatisfaction – a statement is framed like a question and an answer is expected. This is neither fair nor does it help in retaining dignity and cordiality.

Having asked a question, I should have accepted the answer with full trust as an Adult answer to an Adult question. Instead it was an ulterior transaction with me in Critical Parent ego-state and the student in over-adaptive Child ego-state. A bad cross communication that allowed me to be unhappy with him whatever his response would be.

As the student has been coming late regularly, he lacked commitment to studies. If I did not allow him in the class, he would not have minded it, but the overall loss is not desirable. I did not so far succeed in getting any positive changes by imposing consequences like denying entry to the class or deducting marks in internal assessment for such unacceptable behaviors.

For me, it would have been better to express my unhappiness, stating clearly what I expected and what the consequences would be for repeated late coming. Cornering him with a question for which he has no acceptable answer and no choice to nullify the question did not help. It was also an unwanted humiliation in front of his classmates.

This happened in a classroom today. Such instances are found in offices and homes too. Asking a question with prejudice about the answer is sarcasm and not a healthy mature behavior. If we have framed a question which should have been a statement to express unhappiness, then we should allow the other party to nullify the question by ignoring it. Cornering a person who has less privilege in the context is humiliation, taking undue advantage of the position.

I have learned a lesson and share it with you.


About pgbhat

A retired Naval Officer and an educationist. Has experience with software industry. A guest faculty at different institutes and a corporate trainer with software development companies.
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5 Responses to Irrelevant Question

  1. Keshav says:

    All too often, I find myself in the same Parent-ego state when dealing with my team. There is always an excuse for not delivering. I call it “Dog-Ate-my-homework” syndrome. Never analyzed it in terms of the prejudice about the answer. I’ll have to catch myself in that state next time. I can see that this level of clarity in self-awareness will be extremely helpful in dealing with communication issues in Management. Looking forward to your next post.


  2. Shivananda says:

    For a teacher like me, this post is very very useful. I want to share this with my colleagues. Thank you.


  3. balaji says:



  4. Krishna says:

    Very lucidly put, most of us encounter this and react in the same manner, I read the blog long back, forgot to comment, nowadays, after having read the blog, I have actually caught myself in this kind of a situation so many times, and pulled myself back from reacting in the usual manner, not always, but its a good start.


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