If you are faced with a difficult question, there are a few things you can do, but you will have to deal with it – pretending it didn’t happen or answering with ‘no comment’ is rarely an option.
Preparation – As with many of the best techniques, the hard work can usually be done in advance as part of your preparation. It’s no good hoping that you won’t get asked anything tough, you have to assume that someone will have dug up that tricky query and will throw it at you, so considering the ‘good, bad and ugly’ issues you might get asked is essential. Inviting those around you for their input as well is likely to help ensure you have covered all or most bases. The second part of this is obviously to think of appropriate answers to the tricky questions – care needs to be taken if there are confidential or sensitive issues but some might well be answers you can easily find and then deliver, but if not you may have to rely on other techniques.
If you can’t answer – Sometimes you will simply not be able to answer the question, you either won’t have the information (if you just can’t remember or don’t have it in your head, just say you will come back to them) or it may be something that can’t be publicly discussed – don’t underestimate the appetite and skill some journalists have for trying to elicit this kind of information from you. Politely but firmly explaining that you can’t provide that answer will normally make the interviewer realise that you won’t be drawn on the topic, but if you are pressed, don’t be afraid to repeat your ‘polite but firm’ rebuttal again. It can also be useful to try another tack…
If you don’t want to answer a specific question – You can, subtly or not, say so but explain there is other information you could provide instead (e.g. “that’s not something I’m able to go into at this time, but what I can tell you is that…”). The alternative answer clearly has to be something ‘safe’ you can disclose and something that will be of interest to the audience – otherwise there’s little incentive for them to drop their original line. This method essentially offers a quid pro quo i.e. if you leave that topic alone, I can try and help you in another area.
Bridging – This is a similar technique to the above; if done badly this can make you sound like a stubborn politician but if done well it can be an effective way to get the focus and control back on to your own agenda. We tell delegates that it’s as easy as ABC – firstly you have to:
- Acknowledge the question (e.g. “yes, that’s a point of view some in the market have…”) – if you don’t do this it will seem abrupt and rude.
- Bridge to what you want to say – this is often as simple as adding “…but/however/although…” etc.
- Communicate your message or the main point you are keen to get across (e.g. “…what clients are telling us is…”).
These are just a few of the techniques you can use to handle difficult or even hostile questions. They each need to be practiced to get right and we obviously go into far more depth on how to use them in the training courses but with these you can make a huge difference to your confidence levels and ensure that you are able to deal with awkward questions if they do come up.
Written by Will Edwards – www.bluewoodtraining.com – November 2015