The Columbo Tactic: Diplomacy Rather than D-Day (Greg Koukl)

In this lecture, Greg Koukl explains “the Columbo Tactic,” which the Stand to Reason website describes as follows:

“Using simple, leading questions is an almost effortless way to introduce spiritual topics to a conversation without seeming abrupt. At STR we call this the ‘Columbo’ tactic, named after the bumbling and seemingly inept TV detective whose remarkable success was based on an innocent query: ‘Do you mind if I ask you a question?’

‘Columbo’ is most powerful if you have a game plan for the conversation. Generally when I ask a question I have a goal in mind. I’m alerted to some weakness, flaw, or contradiction in another’s view that I want to expose in a disarming way.

Other times the question is an open-ended ‘What do you mean by that?’ delivered in a mild, genuinely inquisitive fashion. The general topic can be anything broadly related to spiritual things. Then begin to probe with questions, gently guiding the conversation in a more spiritually productive direction.

The follow-up question, ‘How did you come to that conclusion?,’ graciously assumes the non-Christian has reasons for her view and is not just emoting. It gives her a chance to express her rationale (if she has one), giving you more material to work with.

Occasionally someone will quip, ‘I don’t have any reasons; I just believe it,’ to which I ask, ‘Why would you believe something when you have no reason to think it’s true?’ This is a genuine—and very appropriate—question. And it’s simple.

You may not always have an answer, but you can always ask a question, especially a well-placed one.

That’s the value of the Columbo tactic.”


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