“Start asking questions…”

by | Jan 25, 2024

We’re two episodes into the latest season of True Detective: Night County. Episode one was a bit…we’ll say whacky, but I was hooked. Episode two had me sit up and take notice multiple times. One of those times inspired this week’s newsletter. The others–I am not here to spoil your True Detective experience if you’ve yet to tune in. 🧊

Jodi Foster, who plays the lead detective, and her newbie officer were assessing the crime scene photos. 

“Start asking questions,” she commanded. “What’s the question?”

The officer responded with a question, which got the approving nod from Jodi. “Keep asking…” He thoughtfully posed more questions, one leading to the next. 

At one point, he asked why something happened, and Jodi jumped in, “Wrong question. You’re not asking the right question.” 

He paused. You could see something click in his brain. He posed a new question that led to a sharp intake of breath by both of them and made both sets of their eyes pop open in recognition that, oh man, this case was going to be a DOOZY. They didn’t have the answers yet by any means, but the question he posed made ME sit up on the couch and think oh man, that just opened up a big ol’ can of worms! There’s so much more to figure out! When’s the next episode?!?!

What’s the question?

Start asking questions. 

You’re not asking the right question. 

What’s the question?

Jodi’s persistence in her new protege is the mantra for productive, expansive, and mutually beneficial feedback conversations. That’s what made me sit up and take notice. #nerdalert

Feedback convos can go sideways in multiple ways. Today, we’re featuring first,  the tendency for judgments and assumptions to lead the way and second, the tell don’t ask situation.

When we’re prepping for feedback conversations, we’re thinking about what we saw, what the situation was, and what was happening from our perspective. We’re seeing things from our side of the story, and we’re seeing the picture in our minds. While this is only our perception, we tend to roll into these convos like our version of events is straight-up facts. 

“Well, they’re late again. I knew they weren’t going to take this promotion seriously. I’ll talk to them about it, but they are always so sensitive and defensive whenever I talk to them. I bet it’s because they moved and didn’t factor in the commute time, but still.” 

WHAT’S THE QUESTION? 

How many assumptions and judgments are we working with within just those few sentences? I made it fairly obvious (I hope!), and there are always the slippery judgments, assumptions, and stories that sneak in that we don’t even realize. 

When preparing for your feedback convos, performance reviews, and coaching conversations, ask yourself, “What’s the question?” What questions can you ask to get their side of the story, to see the full picture, and to stay out of judgment and assumptions? 

When we go in thinking our version of reality is the only one, people tend to get defensive. When we go in with questions, curiosity, and wonder, we open up the possibilities for that eye-opening oh-shit expansiveness that Jodi and her officer experienced. (In a good way, unlike them. 😉)

If I were to ask you, and I ask this a lot, who should do most of the talking in a feedback and coaching conversation, how would you answer? Chances are, “The receiver!” Correct! And the answer I get most often. 

Then, immediately after, when we drop into role plays, nere a question do I hear. It’s tell tell tell tell tell tell tell and no asking. Nerves, fear of reaction, thinking we’re being supportive, never seen it modeled the correct way–I get it. We know we’re supposed to ask, we just lose our minds and don’t. 

WHAT’S THE QUESTION?

Imagine if you engaged in your next feedback convo with “What’s the question?” written on a sticky note. You sat down to have your chat, and smacked that sticky right on the table. When your coachee asked what was going on, you would say, “Hey, I’ve got some thoughts for you, and I’d love to hear your take. This sticky here is to remind both of us to keep asking questions so we can get the full story and open up to possibilities about how we can move forward. Sound good?” 

Use it as a reminder for both of you that in order for any agreement to be made, there’s got to be understanding on both sides. A clear way to get out of judgment, assumption, and telling and not asking–ask questions. Start asking questions. 

The final minutes of episode two featured Jodi’s nemesis discovering an interesting tidbit and her partner asking a question–the wrong question. Nemesis whispered under her breath, “That’s the wrong question…” quoting her rival, which took a lot, but she knew. 

They asked another question, and click! Another eye-opening holy crap new piece of evidence found. 

The theory works. Questions open us up. They lead us to things we haven’t seen before, parts of people we didn’t understand before, and ways of doing things we might not have thought of previously. 

Start asking questions. 

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