A double bind is a type of question which results in the same answer regardless of which way it is answered.
It is a communication technique often used for persuasion (e.g. in the context of business sales) as well as suggestion (e.g. when being used by a hypnotherapist to help ‘change’ a client’s mind).
It can also be used coercively to negatively influence an individual, so it’s important to identify when this might be happening and also to know how to deal with it.
A typical double bind question might assume something negative about the person being asked and then question the frequency of that negative thing being done, for example:
“Have you stopped cheating in exams?”
The assumption is that the person is a cheat and turns the question into WHEN they have been doing it.
Answering ‘yes’ confirms they have cheated in exams and answering ‘no’ confirms they are STILL cheating in exams.
As the framing of the question is also closed, the person is expected to answer only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and therefore cannot deny the assumption.
How to Deal with Double Bind Questions
The best way to reply to a double bind question is to interpret it as an open question and respond to the assumption, whilst ignoring the closed element of the question altogether.
In the above example, the response would be:
“What makes you think I have been anything other than honest in the exams I have taken?”
Note how the assumption of cheating in exams has been dealt with directly, ignoring the closed question framing and rejecting a ‘yes/no’ response choice.
Knowing how to use and defend against double bind questions is a valuable communication skill.