The Q&A format is a time-honored way to promote dialog and discourse. But as Scott G points out, certain Questions can lead to Answers that start an argument, a brawl, or even a war.

Almost every man has heard this question: “Does this dress make me look fat?” Answers that immediately come to mind include:

* It’s not the dress.
* Define “fat.”
* Blame the mirror.
* Stand further back.
* We’re late; just pick something and let’s go.

While all of these replies are fine to every guy, for some strange reason none of these answers are acceptable to wives or girlfriends. But this is not the fault of the person who is answering. The problem lies with whoever is starting a dialog that isn’t designed to go anywhere.

Scott G, writer and composer Yes, No, or Maybe
It’s a favorite lawyer trick to pose a series of Yes/No questions in order to take someone down a path to the wrong answer (well, the “right” answer for the attorney’s client, but an answer that is somewhat removed from the truth of the matter). Pollsters are also adept at this technique. Here, adapted from an idea in the British “Yes, Prime Minister” TV series, are two examples of how poll results can be easily manipulated.

Series of pollster questions #1:
1) Is rising unemployment bad for the country?
2) Is crime bad for your neighborhood?
3) Should schools be able to prevent students from running wild?
4) Would it be a good thing to give young people some direction in their lives?
5) Do you think bringing back the draft would be helpful for the nation?

Series of pollster questions #2:
1) Does the threat of a world war frighten you?
2) Are you bothered by the increase in global armament?
3) Is it dangerous to give weapons to young people?
4) Do you agree it’s wrong to force people to take up arms?
5) Do you think bringing back the draft would be wrong for the nation?

If you omit the first 4 points in either series and release the answers to the 5th question, you would have two polls with radically different results, yet you could obtain these results from the same group of people.

Assuming Certain Responses
Some questions begin with an answer already in mind: “Will you be paying by cash or credit card for those items you’ve stuffed down your pants?” Or “To avoid our ordering the F-22 Raptors to attack, when will you be withdrawing your troops massed at the border?”

Just the Facts, Ma’am
Factual questions are usually simple and most reasonable people can agree on the answers, as in asking for today’s date or the correct time. But there can be surprises. For example, in reply to the innocuous “What time is it?” you could hear the somewhat ominous: “Later than you think.”

Thinking Required
There are questions that call for interpretation of many factors and pieces of evidence. For these, the reply will gain validity in direct proportion to the knowledge of the facts. For example: “In what ways were the election results erroneous?”

No Thinking Required
“Show of hands, who does not believe in evolution?” Of all the right-wing reactionary wackos running for the Republican ticket, the most affable of the hand-raisers was Mike Huckabee, yet even he knows that his gesture-answer needs some explanation. He has to go to some lengths to justify his not believing in science.

Putting Yourself into the Picture
Many questions reveal quite a bit about the questioner. “Can you list the similarities between Roman gladiatorial games and American football?”

Whenever some well-meaning person wants my opinion about their weight, my God, the electorate’s psychosis, or the state of today’s music, I often postpone my reply by giving them a piece of advice that will serve them well for the rest of their lives:

If you really don’t want to hear the answer to a question, don’t ask the question.

[tags]pollsters, public opinion, Q&A, trick question, lawyer, Mike Huckabee, F-22 Raptor, draft, Yes Minister[/tags]