I was at a meeting today, with a mixed group of engineers and managers, trying to work out when thing X would be complete. So the questions were of the form “is feature Y production quality on branch Z?”. Sometimes the engineers got to answer the question, sometimes management. The engineers response was “yes” or, when appropriate “no”; or sometimes rather more nuanced when the feature’s status required it.
The managers response when asked a question whose answer amounted to “no” was a long sequence of words that generally appeared to be intended as an excuse for “no”. But since it took the “no” for granted, it never actually answered the question that was asked. It was like being in a meeting with the stereotype of a Polite Japanese, who stereotypically will never say no. This wasn’t a meeting with higher-layer management present, so no-one was obliged to defend themselves; yet the auto-response kicked in.
It wasn’t just the “no” answers that were difficult for the managers, though. Even answers that boiled down to “yes” were several sentences long and often hard to parse. With my Dilbert hat on, it was like the managers just couldn’t let go of their meeting, and were determined to prolong it by giving pointlessly prolix answers. Also, if someone is answering a question whose answer is intended to be “yes” with a string of sentences, the natural assumption is that what they’ve actually said is “yes, but” or, and quite often this is the case, they’ve actually answered a different question.
Possibly it works the other way round too, though: the manager, having just asked me “is feature X finished yet?”, is annoyed to receive the plain answer “no”, and is thinking to himself “Sheesh! I just asked politely why the thing is late and when it will be finished, and all I get is a rude no. Talking to these guys is like getting blood out of a stone.”