Anticipating the Negatives

Saying ‘no comment’ in an interview ceased being an acceptable answer long ago, at best you look aggressive, at worst it’s taken as an admission of guilt. So what can you do to tackle the nightmare questions?

The first bit of advice is to put yourself in the shoes of the audience or the interviewer – what might they be concerned about, or what issues might they want to hear you explain in more depth. This first piece of preparation is vital for a number of reasons, not least so that you aren’t quite so shocked when the negative issue comes at you.

In the last few weeks it was Julia Gillard who came close to being shocked in her interview. The Australian Prime Minister was asked, on radio, if her partner of seven years was gay – she responded firmly saying “well that’s absurd” but was pressed again and again by the interviewer. The radio DJ was suspended and then fired over the content of the interview, but if she’d dealt with the question differently it could have created negative headlines that Gillard didn’t want to see.

This probably proves that there will always be some questions that you can’t second guess, so it’s important to know some of the techniques you can use, to handle and respond to them, without either looking under pressure or saying something you shouldn’t.

A lot of the difficult sounding questions are in fact very simple to deal with as most spokespeople aren’t really expected to be able to comment on every topic under the sun – however, this doesn’t mean a journalist won’t try asking you. You should have defined areas to talk about; even CEOs won’t be expected to handle every single query on their organisation in detail. These issues should be made clear to you by your communications advisers, if not, they need to be identified as part of your own preparation, then if you get asked something outside your remit you can refer the interviewer to a more relevant party, or simply but firmly, explain that this is not your area of work or responsibility.

Of course there will be questions, in interviews or at other times, which are within your remit, and which you’d really rather didn’t come up at all. The best way to handle these is to not to lie or blurt ‘no comment’ but to appropriately address the question, and use your response as a stepping stone to talk about areas you are happy to discuss – and hopefully which are on more positive territory for you.

Although it’s sometimes overused by politicians; bridging is a very useful tool to move you away from difficult areas and helicopter the agenda onto safer ground. The technique involves acknowledging the question, bridging away from it and then communicating your message. If done badly, you could end up looking like a stumbling Gordon Brown and it takes some practice to do well, but that’s obviously where Bluewood’s Training courses can help!

Written by Will Edwards – – June 2013

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