TURNABOUT Defending against Columbo
Summary: When others ask questions, determine what the purpose is before you fall into a trap that they might be laying. This is done by seeking clarification and by being willing to think about it.
“There should be no risk when someone asks us either of the first two Columbo questions. We welcome the opportunity to clarify our views and then give our reasons for what we believe. The danger we need to guard against is the misuse of the third application of Columbo—leading questions meant to make a point against us.” (Location: 1,957)
Note:Clarifying questions are good. We should accept and encourage them. The difference between leading questions meant to trap and clarifying questions meant to make a point is the intent behind it. Are you trying to encourage a thoughtful consideration of one’s beliefs, or are you trying to confuse and belittle?
“Someone once said if you word the question right, you can win any debate. Dr. Chopra’s challenge was a classic case in point. A simple yes would have been the correct answer (properly qualified1) but would have sent a distorted message, as you’ll see in a moment. Further, Chopra’s words subtly suggested that I thought hell was the punishment people deserved for disagreeing with me.” (Location: 1,977)
Note:In cases when a short, truthful answer will confuse even more, it is better to not answer the question until it is clarified.
“The moment you feel like the questions might be designed to manipulate you, stop the conversation and ask for clarification before you go any further.” (Location: 2,028)
“For example, “What gives you the right to say someone else’s religion is wrong?” can be restated as, “No one is justified in saying one religious view is better than another.” “Who’s to say?” means, “No one could ever know the truth about that,” or, “One answer is just as good as another.” “Who are you to say?” usually means, “You’re wrong for saying someone else is wrong.” This last one is obviously contradictory, but you might not notice that problem if the claim remains hidden behind a question mark.” (Location: 2,113)
Note:Answering a statement as though it were a question isn’t helpful to either party.
“If you remember only one thing from part 1 of this book, remember this: whenever you get in a tough spot, always ask questions.” (Location: 2,187)