Let’s say you are the CEO of a major international company that just been hit by a global product recall.
A technical fault within the product has led to deaths and injuries all over the world. Your share price is diving.
You’ve decided that it’s time to go on the air to try to rescue the situation. You agree to be interviewed. Your aim is to accept responsibility quite openly for what’s happened and to pledge your determination to put things right.
So, there you are on breakfast television being pressed by an interviewer on what went wrong. You explain the background to the problem and what steps are being taken to correct matters.
Then you get the following question:
Interviewer: “Clearly, from what you’ve been saying, your company is taking a very responsible approach towards dealing with this problem and you are not ducking the issue…”
At this point, your mind starts formulating a reply to the question. You’re surprised by how ‘helpful’ it is. Indeed, it’s almost a gift of a question. You start forming your response in your mind. The words that come out are as follows:
Interviewee: “You’re absolutely right. We are a very responsible company with an unblemished track record until now as far as product safety is concerned. Moreover, the measures we have set in action in response to this development further reflect how we are a completely ethical company.”
The problem is, while you’ve been formulating your response to this seemingly anodyne question, the interviewer hasn’t stopped there. It turns out there’s a second part to the question. And so the full question was as follows:
“Clearly, from what you’ve been saying, your company is taking a very responsible approach towards dealing with this problem and you are not ducking the issue… However, would you not agree that the dive in your share price could send your company into oblivion?”
As the interviewee, you were so relieved by how easy was the opening half of the question that you obliterated from your mind, or simply didn’t take in, the second half of the question. As it was, the share price/oblivion question turns out to be the most damaging part of the interview – and you’ve ignored it.
So the trick is to make sure you listen to an entire question before responding.
Don’t be so angered by the outrageousness of a question, or so seduced by its apparent innocence, that you launch straight in with your reply. The wording in the second half of the question will then pass you by – and they could be words that contain dynamite.
In the example described above, not taking on board the forecast about the company’s future and failing to deal with it promptly, would have been a glaring lapse on the part of the company’s CEO.
Furthermore, especially if you are on television, it is always best to be seen considering the entirety of the question before responding, rather than jumping in early. It leaves an impression in the mind of the viewer that the interviewee is taking things at their own pace and measuring their words carefully, rather than being so uptight and nervous, they are anxious to get back in with their answer at the first available opportunity.