There are two words beloved by journalists – two words that figure hugely in their minds when they go hunting a news story, chasing down the facts behind it and identifying the culprits if the story concerns death, disaster or chaos.
The words are ‘blame’ and ‘guarantee’. In the latter case, it’s generally a ‘guarantee’ required by the media on behalf of the public that the same thing won’t happen again.
You can see these instincts at work in the coverage of recent calamities within Britain’s National Health Service. Journalists rightly see it as their job to name-and-shame those responsible for deaths and neglect within our hospitals and care homes, and then to pin officials against the wall to seek assurances that further such cases will not recur.
So, if you are in the hot-seat, having presided over 30 deaths at your hospital or wide-scale abuse at the care home you run, of course an interviewer is going to ask you for a guarantee such incidents will not happen again.
If the train company you head has been blighted by cancellations and delays because of ‘drizzle on the tracks’, of course the journalist will be looking for reassurances that passengers won’t be similarly inconvenienced in the future.
In nearly all such cases an interviewee cannot give any such guarantee. Only God can do that. Certain events are beyond the control of Man and there’s no point in pretending otherwise.
So unless you, the spokesperson, are 100% certain that the same débâcle won’t occur again within your company/organisation, don’t start issuing guarantees.
Instead, be honest. Tell your interviewer that there are rarely guarantees in life. What you can guarantee is that you are personally assuming responsibility for taking all possible steps to ensure the same things doesn’t take place again.
Your interviewer might well press you as to whether that response constitutes a guarantee. Don’t go there.
Be honest again and repeat the fact that there are very few guarantees that one can give. Don’t let the interviewer draw you into taking a position that might one day rebound on you.