The Columbo method—A rhetoric of inquiry practiced across professions


  • Christyne Eva Berzsenyi Pennsylvania State University, Wilkes-Barre



The increasing numbers of trade articles about the almost trademark “Columbo Method” evidences a growing phenomenon. As demonstrated by the fictional television detective of Columbo 1968-2003, the method is an approach to investigation characterized by rhetorical inquiry (system of questions and timing), an antipotent persona (nonauthoritative, unassuming Everyman), and tenacity in overcoming a responder’s resistance to collaboration or influence. The essay provides a theoretical analysis of Columbo’s informed but indirect questioning, pretense of ignorance, solicitation of help, folksy congeniality, and the false exit. A literature review presents applications of the Columbo Method by professionals to describe effective workplace interaction with resistant responders (conflicting values or allegiances, lifestyle and demographic differences, shyness, anxiety, fear of change, etc.). Third, the theory is applied in an in-depth rhetorical analysis of cases of communication in academia. Most importantly, the work strives to make an impact in ethical approaches to communication with implications for developing rhetorical pedagogy. 

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