Tactics and Tools

The Columbo Tactic

Author Greg Koukl Published on 02/28/2013

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.