When Questions Get Taken Away From You


For some unknown reason, today I thought about a mental exercise we ran on our police SWAT team. The team had (and for those still on it: has) a responsibility for responding to incidents of hostage-taking. 

This exercise was one (1) that I also began running with other teams. It was quite simple, yet was a window right into the minds of the members on the team and in the tactical community in general. 
If you responded to a hostage incident & could only ask one (1) question, what would that one (1) question be?
Imagine arriving at a hostage-taking incident. Imagine all the questions you'd have. All the information you'd want. All the specifics. All the facts. It'd be easy to list two (2) dozen questions that could prove vital to the success of saving the hostages. Could you go all-in on a single inquiry? 

Members would share their one (1) question. Inevitably, people changed their minds as they heard more profound, more important questions being shared....and forecasted the value of the potential answers. 

For this particular exercise on hostage rescue, the teams I worked with would often lock horns over the same two (2) top-rated questions. (For the integrity of hostage rescue, I will not be sharing those two (2) questions. Sorry.)  

Imagine that! Dozens of potential questions that boiled down to two (2) recurring main inquiries!  And if you had supported Question A, there was a pretty good chance you'd see Question B as the second most important question. And vise versa. 

OK. Now what if you had time to ask a second question? Might it depend on how that first question was answered? 

This exercise forced our people to ask better questions. To provide better briefings. To understand how to prioritize information. To see things from a different perspective. To be more intentional and purposeful. 

You're probably not responsible for rescuing hostages. So how can you participate in an exercise like this?

Maybe you've been told to give a presentation to a group & given the date/time/location. You can't refuse. You've got to give a presentation. No escape. 

What are the questions you'd want to ask? 

You get to ask one (1). The rest of what you'll learn is when the stage curtain opens.

But you've got enough time in the coming days or weeks to prepare contingencies for a whole list of possibilities.

What is that one (1) question?

Now consider what the possible answers are. Do you now have a list of second question options you would followup with, based on how the first is answered? And maybe a list of third questions based on how the first and second are answered?

This curious, anticipatory, prioritizing, contingency thinking is exactly how we had developed (& continue to develop) the minds of our police SWAT team members who were tasked with a variety of life-or-death emergencies. I hope you can do the same with a silly exercise about public speaking (or whatever it is that brings you anxiety), where the consequences are likely considerably lower than the lives of innocent persons.

I have a theory that when questions are taken away from us, we need to ask better questions in better order. And know how the answers impact our next lines of questions and planning. And this is especially true when time is of the essence.

In the meantime...what's your one (1) question for that presentation you're forced to give next week? 

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The post's photo? It's from the 1973 bank robbery siege in Sweden, from where we've gotten the term Stockholm Syndrome.

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Lou Hayes, Jr. is a criminal investigations & intelligence unit supervisor in a suburban Chicago police department. With a passion for training, he studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr or on LinkedInHe also maintains a LinkedIn page for The Illinois Model.

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