Would you mind answering some rather crass questions?


We can only be sure that the relationship we have with our customers is any good…is actually helping them achieve the things they want to achieve, without getting in the way or trying to impose our idea of the good life…if we ask them. But what’s the best way to do that?

When my colleague Vicky shared this clip from Parks and Recreation I started laughing out loud….but then had a horrible thought…..

What if we come across like Leslie Knope?!

What if our customers think we go blundering in asking crass questions at inopportune times; or even worse…ask leading questions just to get the answers we want?

I was talking to Kathryn Anthon from Wigan Council a while back. She’s one of the team trying to reshape the way adult social care is provided in the town. She wants her people to stop and listen to their clients, to pay attention to what’s already there – what’s already working – and only then ask how they could help.

Kathryn told me a brilliant story about some joint work Wigan have been doing with the Fire Service. I think the fire service are doing some fascinating things to really challenge themselves about their purpose (more on that in another blog). The joint work with Wigan was to do with loneliness but this story is about the importance of what you ask and how you ask it.

Kathryn and a member of the fire service were sat in the home of a woman who had been referred to their pilot because someone thought she might be lonely. This was a young woman with severe and multiple disabilities. Let’s call her Jenny. The fire officer (sorry, I can’t keep saying ‘person from the fire service’) asked Jenny if she was lonely. She said no. He gave Kathryn a “there, nothing for us to do here” kind of look.

Now it was Kathryn’s turn to ask Jenny some questions.

“Have you been out anywhere today Jenny?”


“What about earlier in the week?”

“No, not really.”

“Has anyone been to visit you today?”

“No, I don’t get many visitors.”

“Have you spoken to anyone today…on the phone maybe or using social media?”


“What about this week?”


Kathryn looked at the fire officer. “Alright,” he said, “I get it”.

So we’ve decided to get a bit of help from some people who know all about asking the right questions, in the right way and at the right time. We’re sure we could be doing it better and doing it in a way that avoids the pitfalls that Parks and Recreation laid bare.

We want to have contact with our customers not just when something has gone wrong. We want to establish a relationship with each of our customers; yes, to help them overcome life’s challenges but also to help them build on their strengths and reach their goals.

And getting better at listening to and really paying attention to what customers are telling us should play a big part in helping us overcome our own challenges and helping us work towards our goal of becoming an effective coaching organisation.




2 responses to “Would you mind answering some rather crass questions?

  1. Given that I work in a Partnerships team, and Partnerships is the first word of my job title, the principles that you highlight here are very relevant to working with partner organisations as much as how you work with individuals.


    • Thanks Robin, you’re absolutely right. I think at the heart of any successful relationship the building blocks are very similar….giving attention, listening, asking the right questions.


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