Quick-Question Horror

October 27th, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

“I have a quick question,” is invariably a delusion and lie. It is a spasm of speech that should warn all listening.


Quick-question (QQ) askers generally 1) proceed to lay out a long, complex, convoluted argument for a position along with a query that if written would be rife with commas and semicolons, 2) stop the current discussion with a vast, tangentially related problem, or 3) both. They don’t ask QQs and their questions don’t call for short answers.

From my high-tech days, both as a team member and as a manager, I was wary of QQ engineers. Hardware, software, and  firmware developers seemed to love that phrase. For some of us running meetings, it was a call to action, quick action.

There are a couple of QQ types, each requiring specific intervention:

  • Smart Alec — This one is often a man in his 20s, who has a tiny idea he thinks is brilliant and game-changing. He fills the meeting air with his thinking process and his shreds of evidence to show how he has seen what all you lesser mortals missed.
  • Myers-Briggs S Type — These well-intentioned people are very literal. They need to have all the evidence in front of them to make even the smallest decision and they can continue until every detail is in the form they understand and would use.

The best meeting leaders short-circuit the smart alecs. Generally, their QQ is off topic and a distraction from what is keeping everyone else in the room and away from real work. Take ’em offline. Deal with them apart from the meeting yourself or ID the subject-matter expert who can either explain why they’re making a huge deal out of nothing, why they are wrong, or how their concern can become part of the project at hand. Without an audience, smart alecs usually turn reasonable and quiet fast.

S types on the other hand can’t help themselves. That’s the way they think. They need to see and ideally touch the documents related to the pending meeting.

A Myers-Briggs consultant taught me how to handle then. That has to take place before the meeting. Give them any related documents before the meeting, let them read and handle them, and be prepared for what really are some QQs before the group gets together. S types need to come to terms with minutiae. They can do it before the meeting or stop the works during it.

A fun way to observe this is one where you aren’t involved, either as a captive of the QQ sorts or trying to manage them in your own meeting. Listen to call-in shows. Thoughty ones like On Point are good bets.  They tend to deal with complex topics, they have polite hosts not prone to hanging up on people, and they don’t try to elicit emotional rants from callers.

Every show, you’ll hear the QQ line. Listen to how the host handles the self-identified expert with great insight or the caller who tries to lay out intricate thought processes instead of getting to the point, any point. Tom Ashbrook for one has gotten good at knowing when someone is beginning to blow long and hard, by grabbing the obvious question nub, saying something like, “We take your point,” and bringing in the guest(s) to say something meaningful (and terse).

There’s a lesson there for all who lead or attend meetings.

common sense

That’s a really good question


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