A Duck Or Red Herring? The Powerful Question To Get To The Real Issue At Hand

Have you heard the idiom “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck then, it’s probably a duck”?

As a manager, you better be able to identify your wildlife at work–sometimes it isn’t a duck. It’s a “red herring”–something that distracts you from the real issue.

Several years ago I interviewed staff who worked in a national breast cancer organization to elicit best practices. In one interview a peer counselor told me she always knows to ask the person she’s supporting,

“And what else is going on?”

In that simple question, the answer often reveals whether the issue is a fish or fowl–a red herring or a duck.

“You can spend your entire time discussing treatment, the stress of not knowing whether it will be successful-and never really get to the crux of what’s bothering the person,” the counselor said. “You ask this question, you find out she and her husband had a fight and that’s the thing she most needs to talk about!”

Even the most brilliant and talented of us do not always know our own minds or to what thing, just outside our conscious awareness, we may be responding.

Recently, I demonstrated good reasoning over a sticky political situation with a trusted colleague, discussed various courses of action and decided on the best course to take. (Looks like a duck.) Yet, we could both hear that I was still caught in an emotional undertow. (It’s a red herring.)

Later that day, I realized my father’s favorite annual event, the Big Rock Marlin tournament, was taking place. Had he been alive he would have been planning since the previous year’s event. As the week approached, the cottage would be one big staging area for his preparations. And what followed the Big Rock? Father’s Day.

Had I remembered to ask myself “What else is going on?” I might have come to the realization much sooner that I was missing my father. I might have been much kinder to myself when logic didn’t resolve a more discrete situation.

As an executive coach and consultant, my relationships with clients often allow me to ask if there is anything else that might be occupying the person’s attention, such as health, finances, family, etc. Frequently, this is where concerns over an aging parent, a child who is having trouble at school, or another business situation unrelated to the immediate problem surfaces. As a manager, you will have to assess whether something else is going on–and whether it’s appropriate for you to inquire–or perhaps ask “what else is going on?” and leave it to them to consider.


U.S. Library of Congress ISSN 2164-7240

©2004, 2015 Leadership Hand LLC and Beth Hand  | (+1) 703.820.8018 Eastern Time USA | www.leadershiphand.com

You may reprint an article from Written by Hand© on a non-exclusive basis provided the above copyright and link to www.LeadershipHand.com is included in the credits. Please send us a notice of the reprint along with a copy of the publication.

Comments are closed.