The kids ran into the restaurant like they owned the place. A stern voice from me calmed them down, at least for the moment.
The hostess greeted us with a smile. An interesting conversation followed:
“Hi, three people today?” she said
“It’s a beautiful day to eat outside. If you’ll follow me you can have your pick of tables.”
Without thinking I agreed and she ushered us outside.
Like she said, we had the outside to ourselves. It wasn’t until later I realized what happened.
Planting A Seed
Did you notice she didn’t ask if we wanted to sit outside? She led us. There were a few big crowds inside, including a party. No doubt, she saw my kids and decided they might be a nuisance to other guests.
Telling me they didn’t want us inside would have been insulting. Instead, she used a subtle technique to lead me to that conclusion.
First, she made a simple comment about how nice it is to dine outside. That was the setup.
Next, she presupposed we wanted to eat outside. Instead of asking if we wanted to eat outside she said:
“If you’ll follow me you can have your pick of tables”
She never asked if I wanted to eat outside. She assumed the answer would be yes. Of course, I could have interrupted the flow and requested to eat inside.
It happened so fast I didn’t have time to think. My brain operated on auto pilot. In fact, it wasn’t until writing in my journal that I realized what happened.
That’s the power of a well-crafted presupposition. The receiver never notices. They simply go with the flow.
Presupposing is not just a tactic for crafty restaurant hosts.
Copywriters, political writers and media use and abuse this tactic all the time. Unless you’re looking for it, you never know what’s really going on.
Putting it into practice is simple. The hard part is remembering to do it.
You assume at the beginning of the argument that the answer to the first question aligns to the second question.
The formula looks like this:
1. A question with a yes or no answer
2. If the answer is yes, then ask the follow up (why, how, how much, what)
That represents a typical line of questioning.
Instead of that pattern, assume the answer to the first question is yes and only ask the second question.
Here’s an example. Let’s pretend I have these two questions
- Does this program work for all types of businesses?
- If yes, then ask: why does it work for all types of businesses? Or, what makes it work for all types of businesses?
Instead, skip the first question. Assume the answer is yes.
Ask: What makes this program work for all types of businesses?
Presuppose In Mass Media
Here’s a typical example you hear in the media.
If I ask you this question:
“Why is the mayor so averse to change?”
That question presupposes the mayor is, in fact, averse to change. You’re asked to defend why without being asked if you agree with the original premise.
Try this exercise. Watch your favorite news channel. Take note of all the presuppose questions. The frequency will surprise you, no matter what your political persuasion.