A recent post by Strategy Coach for Business & Life, Rick Houcek (www.SoarWithEagles.com), caught my attention because it is so true. He wrote:
“It drives me nuts. It’s when a leader dodges a direct question and answers another more preferred, yet un-asked, question. Really gets my blood boiling.”
When I was a reporter and conducted interviews, it typically was a politician who evaded a question and responded with a pre-programmed answer. The most annoying part was the answer usually had nothing to do with my question.
Yet, it’s so much more productive when you answer responsively, but on your terms, from your perspective. I want to show you some examples and explain the techniques used.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey must negotiate a slippery slope. While he’s the nation’s top military man, he also reports to his civilian boss, the president. There’s a very narrow divide between policy and politics.
Appearing on a Sunday talk show, Dempsey found himself on that tightrope and doing a pretty good job of maintaining his balance:
Dempsey did a couple things to deflect without evading. First, he suggested the first question was for the president, not him. Next, instead of contradicting the commander-in-chief, Dempsey re-phrased the issue to: “…let me give you my impression of where we are in Afghanistan.” He went on to say the environment there, both militarily and politically, has improved. But, without directly conflicting with the president, he held out the caveat that the situation requires constant monitoring.
Chris Wallace, meantime, pursued the question:
The technique here: answer based on his job and duty as Chief, and repeat the response that Afghanistan needs to be watched.
In an apparent effort to be provocative, Wallace asked about Russia’s macho president:
Gen. Dempsey politely refrained from answering the question on Wallace’s terms, so he took it from the specific to a broader evaluation, “Can I speak to you about Russia? I think…” and while being responsive went on to answer his own question on his own terms.
Evasion and/or spin that’s unresponsive really is counter-productive. Your message gets lost in the irritation you’ve generated because you didn’t answer the question. In fact, you may find yourself in a struggle, of sorts, with the interviewer.
You don’t have to be drawn into an area where you don’t want to be, and still respond to the question you’ve been asked. It takes good message preparation, coaching and rehearsing.