What Tomatoes Can Teach Us About Trust—and Asking Effective Questions

The last few weeks I have been making an enormous amount of tomato sauce and enrolled in an online course with 60 other students.

What do these two things have in common?

Well, if you’ve ever made tomato sauce (depending on the juiciness of your tomatoes) tomato juice tends to end up all over the kitchen.

If you’re in on a Zoom call with 60 people (depending on the juiciness of the questions) there’s the possibility for Q & A to get kooky.

What have I learned from observing and participating in both activities?

It is imperative to confine your tomatoes and distill your questions down to their essence.

What do I mean by this?

Here’s a work example:

Let’s say you are on a call with your boss and you have a question about next steps.

Too often this sounds like,

“I’m sure we probably already talked about this—and I know the last time we handled Y we did X—but I just wanted to check, do you want me to do X again?”

Compare that to:

“For Y project, do you want me to do X again?”

Or perhaps you are on a telemedicine call with your doctor because your knee has been bothering you. My request would be that instead of giving your doctor the entire who/what/when, simply list your symptom(s).

This would sound like,

“When I bend my knee I get a sharp pain on the inside, just under my kneecap. What do you think?”

As opposed to,

“A few years ago I was playing tennis and I twisted my knee and it’s never really been right since and then last week, I was carrying a 20-pound bag of cat litter up the stairs and…”

Can you hear it? That tomato is leaking all over the place…

Now, I’m not saying distilling your question in this way will be easy. It requires trust– trust that the person with whom you are speaking will ask clarifying questions if necessary.

And sometimes that trust is elusive.

But my experience is—more often than not—that if people need more clarity, they will ask for it.

And if they don’t need more clarity, your brevity goes a long way toward the two of you creating a terrific sauce.


For more on the value of taking the onus for clarity on yourself, take a look at, “You’re Not Understanding Me’ vs. “I’m Not Expressing Myself Clearly’”