Three things I learned from Columbo
Jun 5, 2019 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Well-crafted mysteries are one of my favorite things and have inspired a curated list of beloved fictional detectives. It’s hard to decide who’s at the top (after all J.B. Fletcher is pretty amazing!), but Peter Falk’s “Columbo” is definitely one of the gumshoes in contention for the gold medal. When “Columbo” aired in the early 1970s the television landscape was rife with detective dramas such as “McMillan & Wife” or “McCloud.” But “Columbo” stuck out by pioneering the concept of the inverted format. In this style, the viewers watch the perpetrator commit the crime and the resulting performance is completely void of any “whodunit” tension. It’s natural to wonder how a show leveraging that technique would stay compelling. But once Falk enters the scene, all doubts fade away. From his unassuming character to his wrinkled overcoat, all exterior clues seem to point to a bumbling LA cop. Yet as the plot unravels, his sharp wit and keen intellect shine brightly. In no time, the bad guy (or gal) is blinded by the light Columbo wields. The lack of “whodunit” tension is replaced with wondering “when will they yield to Columbo’s pressure?” I find this approach allows for richer character development and is ultimately just as – if not more – captivating than a traditional detective yarn. Join me as I share three things I learned from Columbo and tell me which television characters inspire you in the comments…
Talk Less. Listen More.
Modern society is all about sharing and oftentimes, oversharing. Our social media feeds are inundated with play-by-play scrapbooks of people’s lives. Thanks to our newfangled 24 hour news cycle, there’s always someone talking – vying for our attention. This frantic pace would not suit Columbo. No sir. He is a man of patience and observation. He listens, watches, notices, and questions. A buzz word you may hear in workplace culture today is “active listening.” Columbo could teach the master class on this skill.
By keeping his eyes and ears open, Columbo catalogs his perceptions and figures out the exact circumstances that led to a murder. It’s always fun to watch the killer’s reaction when Columbo reads back to them the detailed events that they thought were so cleverly concealed. Now, we aren’t all detectives in real life, but this concept of thoughtful observation is applicable to all types of lifestyles.
The next time you’re compelled to embark on a monologue, take a moment and wonder – what would Columbo do? By interjecting some strategic silence in your day-to-day you might be pleasantly surprised by the outcome!
One of the fun things about Columbo is that he never made assumptions about people. Granted, he had a gut feeling about different folks or situations, but he never saw those preconceptions as blockers to collaboration. Everyone could be a potential helper and in many episodes that included the killers themselves! Columbo followed his train of thought / loose ends to wherever they led and this usually meant leveraging new resources. In one episode it could be a dog trainer, in another it could be a photographer at a theme park. It didn’t matter if you were rich, poor, man, woman, etc. Columbo really treated life as his laboratory and everyone in at as a fellow student.
Sometimes it’s a big leap to engage with the unfamiliar. But just remember to channel that Columbo-like gumption and you’ll be just fine!
There’s No Such Thing as a Dumb Question.
Columbo’s famous quip of “just one more thing” never failed to irritate the bad guy/gal. Usually it was asked at the exact moment when they thought they had finally shook themselves free of this nosy detective. In that millisecond when they hoped they could finally let their guard down and relax, Columbo burst back into their conscience with a simple request. Most of the time the question he posed seemed silly, irrelevant, or obtuse. The killer would bark back their reply, rattling it off as they oozed anger. No matter how they berated him for uttering a question, Columbo remained calm.
It’s no small thing to be unflappable in the face of fear. Whether that’s challenging someone in a position of power or speaking up in a room of bootlickers, a certain degree of bravery is required. Columbo, for as folksy as he seemed, was a rock. He wouldn’t let anyone bully him into not pursuing his line of inquiry and that shrewd determination should be celebrated. So embrace a little Columbo in your life and always wonder about “just one more thing!”