Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Blueberries, Pick-Up Trucks and Building Relationships

About much more than blueberries!Celeste Bumpus is a speaker, trainer, consultant and president of Creating Balance Seminars. She wrote a guide to eating smart, entitled, Are the Blueberries in Your Waffles Really Blueberries? That is an ear-catching title, isn’t it? I found out not long ago that Celeste had another title in mind–a title that accurately described the focus of the book. A perfectly fine title. The question about blueberries was actually the first line on the back of the book:

“Are the blueberries in your waffles really blueberries?
Are fat free products truly fat free? What’s better, low carb or low fat food?”

Celeste noticed that those she asked to look at her draft copy would look at the front cover without making a comment, turn the book over and read the first line on the back cover, and immediately stop and ask, “Are the blueberries in my waffles really blueberries?” That question attracted so much interest that Celeste knew she needed to change the title of her book! The book is about much more than that (although it does answer that question!) but the question changes her from a knowledgeable person (a good thing) to a personal consultant (a great thing!)

That ties into the advice I once read that the best way to title the chapters of a self-help book is to pose questions which are then answered by the material in each chapter. When the material is brought into the world of the reader through a question, the reader enters the world of the book to get the answer. You can think about that concept when you talk to people–what will take you into their world and bring them into yours?

Years ago I was teaching an In-Service training class at the Denver Police Department Academy, located at the time near one of the city parks. I was in the hallway at break time when one of the participants walked up to another one–someone who rarely spoke and often seemed disinterested–and asked, “What year is your truck?” The officer’s face brightened immediately and he replied that it was almost ten years old, but in great condition. He said he often towed a boat with it and had become the official mover for his whole family–but still, it was comfortable for riding, and he and his wife had gone on a long road trip a few months earlier and enjoyed every minute of it. He concluded by asking, “Are you thinking about getting a truck?” The other officer who had stood there, almost in a daze from the verbal volley by this otherwise morose appearing officer, said, “No. I just was trying to figure out whose truck it was that got a window broken from a golf ball.”

It turned out the broken window was on someone else’s truck, and after the hoopla the officer came back inside, resumed his place in class and once again seemed disinterested. But, for those few moments I was able to see what he was like when he was enthusiastic! Apparently that question gave him a reason to talk that had been lacking before. (I could also use that situation to point out how much more impressive we are when we show enthusiasm.)

I do not suggest that you develop a list of questions to insincerely bring out the interest and enthusiasm of others in a manipulative way. However, it may be helpful for you to remember that one appropriate and effective question can be more mentally engaging than dozens of statements.

Do you have tried and true questions you use in counseling, training, meetings or even social settings, that seem to encourage people to share thoughts or to be more open to your ideas? Let me know about them! (See? I closed with a question, so you would be more likely to respond. Don’t let me down!)

April 27th, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 8 comments


  1. 1. How’s your family? (That usually opens up a long conversation!)
    2. How are things with..? (the new house, car, pet,school, hobby, etc.)
    3.Do you agree with that? (Even though it is not an open-ended question most people will say more.)
    4. Is there anything I can do to help you? (Phrased according to the person and the situation.)
    5. Are things going the way you want them to go? (They almost never are, no matter how good things are going.But, in the process of talking about it there are a lot of thoughts expressed that need to be brought out.)

    Comment by lmv | April 28, 2008

  2. Thank you!I smiled at your remark that if you ask people if things are going the way they want them to go, they’ll probably say no. That’s a shame…but I’d probably feel the same way. There’s always something else or something instead, that we want. Good thoughts! T.

    Comment by Tina | April 28, 2008

  3. My questions aren’t creative but they seem to work fine for my purposes. I use these for corrective counseling with officers and also during evaluations. For me the biggest problem is not asking the same question to the same people.

    1. What is the hardest part of your work?
    2. If you could limit your work to one or two types of calls or actions what would they be?
    3. What is something you’re better at now than you were six months ago?

    There are others, but those are the ones I’ve used recently. I get good reactions to these and the officers seem to enjoy answering them.

    You know how cops are, they can spot a phony question or remark a mile away, so I try to make it fit logically into the conversation. I have also done quizzes at roll calls. Those go over well. That is more like the blueberry question, because I ask things they might want to know or that they would like to show they know. I ask officers to find me interesting stats about work or even just trivia.


    Comment by Shari Neumeyer | April 28, 2008

  4. Shari, those sound creative to me! Good idea about having officers come up with trivia or good statistical questions. I use quizzes in my classes and have a difficult time thinking of questions. Maybe we can share, Shari! 🙂

    Comment by Tina | April 28, 2008

  5. OK…I really was hoping you would tell what is better – low fat or low carb!?!?

    I don’t have any good questions I ask – but I always have meaningful and enthusiastic conversations…I just make sure I always ask with authenticity.

    I really care about people and if I ask how you are doing, I really want to know what’s going on in your world. They will open up if you care.

    Comment by Judith Thomas | April 29, 2008

  6. Judith, I’ve ordered the book, so I’ll tell you when I’ve read it! However, I’ll bet she says the bottom line (so to speak) is–for weight loss–to use more calories than you consume, whether we choose low-fat or low carbohydrates. For health, moderation with a well-balanced dietary regimen is the key issue. Those two things combined will make us lean, mean fighting machines! (Well, once we get the blueberry thing settled!) T.

    Comment by Tina | April 29, 2008

  7. There was a time when the lack of enthusiasm in an individual motivated a group of us sales agents. We met at 3:00 P.M. every week day for coffee. We frequently saw a colleague sitting in a booth with an ash tray full of butts and drinking his umpteenth cup of coffee.
    Finally, we had to know so we asked him. “Is this how you spend your time? Where’s your enthusiasm? Why aren’t you out there looking for leads?
    Without shame he lazily replied, “It’s hard to march when the band ain’t playing.” That remark fired up our band and we marched out not ever wanting to lack enthusiasm.

    Comment by Robert N. Adams | April 30, 2008

  8. Hello, this is a very nice site and good articles. I have a direct report employee who barely breathes, much less talks, unless you ask him about his grandson. Then you have to find reasons to leave the room!

    Comment by KW | August 27, 2008

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