Questioning “probably”

Digging for more information

When a person says that something will probably happen or probably not happen, the statement does not mean much unless the person speaking answers three important questions.

Take for example.

A person says: “Those plants will not grow”.

Photo by Tobias Bjørkli on

First Question: What is the probability of the plants not growing? Is it”low probability”, “medium probability” or “high probability”?

This first question seeks a rough indication of the degree of probability.

The answer might be:'”Low”.

Second Question: Why do you say “low”?

The second question looks for the evidence that led to the degree of probability.

The answer might be: “Low, because you have planted them in a bed that gets sun all day and those plants like the shade.”

Third Question: What evidence would change your mind?

This third question wants useful information on the way forward.

The answer might be: If you replant the plants in a shady part of the garden, they will have a better chance of success.


These three questions can be used any where. It would be useful for a reporter to use them at a news briefing by a politician.

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