The recent passing of the actor Peter Falk (age 83) reminded me of a useful technique for leadership effectiveness, which I call “The Columbo Question.”
The question is best used in a situation involving interviews with other people, so bear with me as I establish the analogy.
Falk’s Lt. Columbo is a Los Angeles detective investigating to a crime scene (typically a homicide). He doesn’t fit the cliché of the authoritarian lead detective, or the intellectual clue gatherer, or the smarmy and charming gadfly. He attire and demeanor is famously rumpled; the word bumbling is often used to describe his style.
Every episode of the television program has a scene where Lt. Columbo is inspecting a crime scene and interviewing people associated with the victim. Lt. Columbo is well-practiced in the technique of the false exit: he begins to leave the scene, and is nearly out the door when he stops and turns around to ask a question. The question is prefaced by his now-famous tag,
Just one more thing,…….”
Lt. Columbo makes an observation about some inconsistency. The seemingly trivial, it turns out to be the detail will tie together the entire investigation and establish the culpability.
Now, here is the insight that you can capitalize upon: people will often reveal their important information at the end of a conversation.
Great insights appear when people thing that the interaction is over.
Therapists, salespeople, and consumer researchers repeatedly notice this when interviewing people in home visits and focus groups. Don’t relax at the end of a session, be more alert.
You ask the Columbo question to take advantage of the principle that the best information might come at the end of a conversation. The Columbo Question is the last question you ask:
Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that I should have asked you?
Give It a Shot
Try out the Columbo Question the next time you are searching for information.
Here are some examples of useful information that I and others have discovered with the Columbo Question:
- There are unrecognized stakeholders who are affected by a decision
- There are unrecognized project elements that need to be included in the scope
- People have serious doubts about a strategy, but don’t feel that they have permission to reveal those doubts
- People have expectations for follow-up from the conversation that might include roadmap that lays out the next steps
Peter Falk’s portrayal of Lt. Columbo made this unassuming-but-determined character a genius at putting people at ease and exploiting the strengths of his own personal style. He brought a sense of curiosity and was sensitive to inconsistencies and incongruities. He wasn’t intimidated by wealthy, powerful, or brilliant people.
How can you use Columbo Question to improve your leadership skills?
Image Sources: stupidtees.co.uk