I don’t normally use this blog as a rant-space. In fact, I normally quite dislike blogs which are little more than places for people to complain about what’s wrong with the world. As well as the negativity (which is best to avoid), it’s also usually because the complaint is usually so personal that it has little to do with anyone else, and offers nothing positive for the future. This blog-post is different. It offers a solution to one of modern day life’s communication problems: the fact that many people never bother to ask a qualifying question: the important second question.
Take this as a scenario. You live in Perth and you saw something on television about horses. So you ring Channel 9 in Perth, because that’s the station you generally watch the most. As soon as the person at Channel 9 in Perth answers the phone, they put you through to the newsroom because that’s where most of the output of Channel 9 in Perth is concentrated. Someone in the newsroom answers the phone, you explain what you’re looking for, and when it doesn’t immediately ring a bell, they do a brief ask around the office, someone yells out “Sounds like The Today Show”, and so they transfer you over to Sydney to “Today”. Someone there answers the phone, you begin to ask your question, they also fail to immediately recognise the issue/story you’re calling about, and then ask “by the way, where are you calling from?” As soon as you say “Perth”, they transfer you back to the Perth switchbaord, and you start the whole process all over again. Or more likely, you hang up.
I need to say this was a completely hypothetical scenario and bears no resemblance to Channel 9, or indeed the organisation I work for, but I’m using it to illustrate a point about the second question. If the person on the switchboard had bothered to ask, “And this was Channel 9, was it?”. And then maybe, “What time of the day was it?”. And even a further question based on that answer such as, “So it was The Today Show with Karl and Tracey?”. Asking a few more questions might have put you straight through to the right area, or at least resolved pretty quickly that you were actually watching “Mel and Kochie”.
Unfortunately that’s not the way many switch-boards and call-centres operate these days, Sadly, their work is often judged on how many calls they process, not how many questions/situations they resolve.
I saw evidence of the same syndrome on Twitter the other day when a bunch of people re-tweeted inaccurate information about the Queensland floods. A few hours later the Queensland Police were themselves tweeting to try to correct the information out there. All that needed to happen in the first place to prevent this from occurring was for a few people to “ask the second question”. For example, you see someone you know tweet about a public transport shut-down. Before you re-tweet that, I reckon you should either check the link they’ve just tweeted, or ask them something like “really, how do you know?”. If they can’t answer the question, my advice is not to re-tweet that information.
But of course that’s not part of the cut-and-paste culture we live in, these days, is it? It’s faster and easier to forward an email and re-tweet something than to ever bother to check the facts, or to seek a clarification from the person who sent you the information. You see it in those chain emails you receive, which contain information you could simply verify by a quick check to Snopes, and you see it, sadly, in journalism.
Sadly, many journalists are either too busy or too lazy these days to question source information or to ask “the second question”. Sadly, too many simply cut and paste something they’ve found elsewhere.
Anyway, it’s an issue that’s been on my mind today a fair bit and so I thought I’d bring it up.
My positive advice for the future though is always ask the follow-up question, and always demand a follow-up answer, and the sum quotient of human happiness will be increased :)
PS…. It’s so much easier now with email to cut and paste, as in the days of fax machines you actually had to re-type the media release as well :)
4 thoughts on “Listen and ask the Second Question”
What an excellent post!
Thanks Neil. I’ve been thinking about writing it for some time. Drives me crazy.
Couldn’t agree more.
In my time in retail, I adopted the condescending but unfortunately useful and accurate mindset that “Customers are idiots”. I’d always ask a lot of questions: often, when they said they’d seen a book with a blue cover, it was a red one; they thought they’d seen the book in Borders (where I worked), but it was really Angus & Robertson.
I take the view that both customers and assistants are both equally stupid :)