Peter Falk as Columbo, publicity photo by Margie Korshak Associates

A truly effective communicator practices asking one more question!

Last week, I read HBR’s article “Good Leadership Is About Asking Good Questions” and thought “Look at that, John Hagel the 3rd agrees with what I’ve been saying and writing for years. Then I thought about it for a minute “Suuure, now that this idea has come from a Harvard (pronounced HAA+ VUHD) source people will read it and think that it is a brilliant idea.

Well, it’s not only a good idea, but it’s also common sense. And it should apply to all of our communications no matter our role. To help us remember this guidance, I am going to call forth the wisdom of a person who was a master of this concept: Columbo, one of my all-time favorite detectives. He came across as extremely absentminded, incredibly awkward, and a red-hot mess. When he was on a case, Columbo would always look like he was stumped. He would stop and hold his head for a few seconds like his thoughts were really hurting him. Then he would turn around slowly, gesture to the suspect, and say those iconic words “There’s just one more thing I gotta ask”. Asking that one more question can yield a lot of great information.

Years ago, I started to pay close attention to my conversations. I wanted to figure out what enabled me to change the tone and outcome of an awkward interaction or a difficult conversation. What was the key factor that allowed me to turn around a challenging situation or relationship? Most importantly, what helped me to establish trust in my various roles in schools, human resources, training, and consulting?

What worked were all skills that Columbo used:

  • Listening
  • Exhibiting a genuine interest in the person
  • Having a healthy sense of curiosity
  • Taking time to find out more detailed information
  • Asking one more thoughtful question

I found that my last question was not a request. And it wasn’t about me. The question was meant to show that I acknowledged the person and their experience. Like Detective Columbo, my “ just one more thing” question showed others that I was really listening and paying attention. This was the question that showed empathy, acknowledgment, appreciation, or understanding. Sometimes asking that “one more question” revealed how I and others were connected in amazing ways, beyond anything that social media could accomplish.

In reality, the “just one more thing” didn’t have to be a question. It could be a comment, but it had to be something that conveyed that I had been listening closely and was acknowledging something I had learned from the other person. This is a communication skill that can be used anywhere. In this digital era of distraction, people recognize its value and appreciate it.

If you are going to be a truly effective communicator, practice asking one more question!

To find out more about what else I learned from Colombo in Play # 8 and growing up in New York (Neooo  Yawk),  check out my book:  “The Learned It in Queens Communication s Playbook – Winning Against Digital Distraction” or check out my website.