If you have not yet seen it, the movie “Waterworld” uses a variation of the Columbo technique many times to show us the conflict between the good and the evil characters. The technique was borrowed from the book by James Patterson called “On the Waterfront.” You may remember James Patterson from his “One Hundred Best Books” series, which is still in progress. Here’s my little tip for the film version of this classic.
In the movie, Columbo asks one of the characters (aces) this: “What do you know that I don’t?” to which the other character (cubby) replies: “You know a lot of things, Mr. Columbo.” What you should do is ask your subject a follow-up question, a tactical question, to see if he/she has any more information to share. Now you can use the same technique on the person who gave you the tactical answer.
Here’s another example: “What do you know that I don’t?” To that, you can reply: “You know a lot of very important things, Mr. Columbo.” This time, we use the strategic information to our advantage, and we use the tactical answer. When we combine this information with the first one we got from the first sentence, the combination can give us a powerful answer.
Using this technique, we can get strategic information by asking specific questions. How do you learn about history? By asking questions. How do you learn about current events? By asking questions.
Now the problem is that we all seem to have the same amount of information. The person to your left knows a little bit about history, but they’re not really an expert in it. The person on your right has a broad understanding of current affairs, but they’re not good at answering questions about history because they don’t know much about it. Who do you think will be the better conversationalist in this situation? The one who asks the question or the one who answers it?
The problem is that these are the people who will be the most effective conversationalists. They will give you accurate information, as long as they can string words together properly and come off sounding like their experts. If you ask them one specific question, they can give you a great answer about a specific person or event. If you don’t ask them specific questions, they will just tell you what they’ve learned over the years.
The problem is that most people are not good at asking this kind of question, so they never learn anything valuable. This is where public speaking comes into play. Public speaking is a powerful tool, but only if you know how to use it. It doesn’t matter how often you’ve been advised to practice your speech in front of a mirror. You still need practice. The key to making it work is to learn how to use the columbo question to get strategic information.
It’s like this: If one of your colleagues told you something that you didn’t know, the first thing you’d do is go out and find out for yourself. Then you would use that information to help shape your next move, whether it be to make a good speech or make a bad one. If you’ve never heard of this particular person, start by asking them questions that give you their strategic information. Then, if you feel comfortable, start asking more specific questions that will lead you down a more concrete path to the information you need. If you get all the information you need to make your career successful, you’re ready to stop looking for the answers and stop preparing for the next question!