This reminds me of the ‘Columbo technique’ which is a way of focusing on an important, or difficult, question and asking it in an unsuspecting way, or at an unsuspecting time. This can be done by:
- Saving the question until the end of the meeting/conversation (for example as leaving you might say ‘oh before I go, may I just ask?’ )
- Asking it at an ‘unsuspecting’ moment (catching the ‘responder’ off-guard, for example asking the question within a series of less controversial questions)
- Asking if you can ask more questions after the meeting (sometimes your judgement might be that the ‘focus’ question can’t be asked in the current meeting / conversation – but be aware if you’re a sales person it’s your job to ask the difficult questions and secure the answers – if it was easy anyone could do it)
Techniques such as ‘Columbo’, fit in with the idea of having both a formal published agenda and a ‘hidden’ agenda. This all might seem a bit ‘black hat’ or unethical, but its one thing detailing an agenda item such as ‘Discussion of the current situation’, another thing entirely ascertaining if the prospect is ‘being economical with the truth’ or using your company to pressurize the incumbent supplier to be more competitive – with no intention of buying from you.
There is another point here about how we can learn from drama, good writing, and shows such as ‘un’ or semi-scripted interview programs. Usually chat show hosts are experts at asking the right questions at the right time.
The Irish psychiatrist and broadcaster Anthony Clare, who sadly died in 2007, was an example to us all in his interviews on the BBC Radio 4 show “In the Psychiatrist’s Chair”, which ran between 1982 and 2001. Whereas, Clive Anderson, a barrister turned chat show host, provided an example of how not to interview guests, in an infamous interview with the Bee Gees. Anderson insulted the Bee Gees at the start of an interview and then continued to mis-read their feelings until they walked off the set.