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A Taxonomy of CFHA Keynote Questioners

Posted By Randall Reitz, Monday, October 10, 2016


You're at this week's CFHA conference. You're glowing in the bucket list elation of a just-finished speech from a professional hero. And then, a flock of Questioners swoops to the microphone mid-way up the center aisle. Like the cicada, this noisy species only makes a brief appearance and then disappears for months or years. During their moment in the sun, they torment the speaker and audience with randomness.

Vox populi, vox diaboli.

And yet, after years of plenary sessions, this annual rite seems far less random. Over time, the Questioners and their statements gain familiarity and order. If you focus closely on the Questioners' gait, tone, dress, and breath, you can easily discern their genus and species.

Here is a first attempt at classifying the types of Questioners the astute observer might sight at next month's CFHA conference in Charlotte:

Niche Gadfly — This Questioner attends every plenary with the fervent expectation that all speakers explicitly frame their material around the Questioner's particular pet cause. If not afforded satisfaction, the Gadfly will counter with "I enjoyed your presentation, but you failed to address how your material relates to _____". Common subspecies of the Gadfly include Family Systems, RCT, Social Justice, ACEs/Trauma,and the never abiding Pan-Umbrage.

Sycophant — While gushing is his sine qua non, always specify if of the Brown Nosing(secondary gain)or Boot Licking (primary gain)genus.

Humble Braggart — Don't be fooled by this ostensibly lowly supplicant. Hubris belies her genuflection. Typical humble brags include "It's been a real struggle for me to grasp the full implications of your oeuvre, which I'm painstakingly deconstructing as part of my Harvard fellowship" or "Thank you for mentioning medical family therapy because I'm still licking my wounds from when I was put in my place by Susan McDaniel over dinner at Gramercy Tavern". Please specify Primarily Humble or Primarily Braggart.


Political Hack  Cherry-picks statements from the speaker to make overtly political commentary. While Blue Hacks typically far out-number Red Hacks in the CFHA populationNorth Carolina might provide a counter-veiling microcosm.

Early Career Idealist  Neophytes are classified as either Reverants (i.e. "Would you please autograph my copy of your CV?") or Comeuppants (i.e. "Never trust anyone over 40").

Solve My Intractable Dilemma — Easily identifiable by its "Yes but! Yes but!" chirp, this species presents an insolvably complex conundrum in hopes that stumping the presenter will justify his case for martyred sainthood. The genus declares itself according the urgency of the request, with varieties including: Here and Now, Immediately After the Plenary,or Through Escalating Email.

Long-Winders — All of this species have hypnotic powers, but not all speak in soothing tones. Drones are typified by their meandering fizzle while Warblers demonstrate characteristic bursts of imploding and rallying, imploding and rallying.

Long-Worders — Two sub-species: Sesquipedalian (uses lots of big words, like "sine qua non” and "sesquipedalian”) and Catachrestist (uses lots of big words inaccurately, like "irregardless”).

Confessor  This tormented soul finds secular Jesus amidst the cadence and crescendo of the keynote and approaches the pulpit seeking the presenter's public forgiveness. Please stratify according to the magnitude of the confessed sin: Myself, My Colleagues, My Privileged Class, or Western Medicine.


So, there you have the 24 known species and sub-species of Questioners. There are inevitably more that have been observed in the wild, but not reported in the scientific literature. If you're aware of any other species please describe them in the comments section below.

AND, for your conference-going pleasure, we have created Keynote Questioner Bingo cards, see linked document below. Simply print out the card, randomly fill in the squares with the species and sub-species, and bring the card to the major conference sessions. Each time you sight a new breed of Questioner mark the appropriate square until you have Bingo.


You might even be the first player to achieve Black-out! Obviously, there is considerable overlap among the species (notably SycophantsIdealists, and Long-Winders). As such, you will need to classify each Questioner within a single category for purposes of the game.

Good Luck!


Randall Reitz is the Director of Behavioral Sciences at the St Mary's Family Medicine Residency in Grand Junction, CO.  He runs a pre-/post-doc fellowship for medical family therapists With CFHA he is a current board member and the previous executive director.  His Questioner species is the unseemly product of a ménage à trois between a sycophant, a sesquipedalian, and a humble braggart.

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Lisa Zak-Hunter says...
Posted Monday, October 10, 2016
This is brilliant and on point, Randall. I have a feeling I may be bringing "Questioner Bingo" to conferences in the future as well. Academics are such an interesting species, aren't we?
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Kaitlin R. Leckie says...
Posted Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Perfect Worders--one who greatly over-thinks the wording of their question, to the point that they might never even ask the question. Identifiable by their evidence of repeated attempts to phrase the perfect question (e.g., crumpled handful of notecards or six foot-long scroll of hastily-scratched notes), as well as their repeated shuffling to the back of the line (“Go ahead and go in front of me; I’m still formulating my question”).
Often mistaken for the Microphonophobic Passionista (One who is trying to reconcile an internal struggle between an intense enthusiasm for the topic at hand and an intense fear of microphones.)
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