Negative questions? Sometimes when you are in an interview you will be thrown a question that is ‘off topic’ from your message. They could be innocent questions, or maybe a journalist is trying to get a comment about another story. What you need to do is keep yourself from being drawn into a discussion of issues that are:
- Not in your field of expertise
- Not in your area of influence
- Damaging to your reputation or the reputation of your organization
- Watering down your message.
If you listen to a politician being interviewed they are often asked questions that could draw them away from the message that they are trying to get across to their audience. You can learn from their techniques – and with practice become comfortable with diverting the question. Look at these techniques, some of which work better than others:
Four great ways to divert negative questions
1. No Comment.
Just saying “no comment” and then waiting for the next question does not really work. While the journalist can only report on what you say, closing down the question and not providing a statement afterward will just mean the journalist will again ask the same question you are trying to avoid. “No comment”, like “pleading the 5th”, also has the potential to create the appearance that you’re trying to hide something. Just saying nothing does not help either.
Check out what NOT to do here – a bizarre response by a former Prime Minister of Australia to a question.
2. I can’t comment on that, but I can say this…
This is a question ‘quick-flick’. It takes the original question and allows you to restate your message. For example, if you are being interviewed about a positive outcome for your organization and you are asked a question about a government policy that may affect your organization , you can just say (politely) “I am sorry I can’t comment on that, but what is the important is that our organization….[inset your message]”
3. Today we are talking about…
Similar to above, but no mention of the original question is made, and then the time is filled with your own message. Sometimes this is perceived as rude, so it needs to be done politely and with a positive message.
4. I understand your concern…
If a question is about a community concern, diverting the question with a statement that shows you recognize that there is a concern, then following through with your message, is a softer way to divert the question. An alternative to this is to acknowledge the issue and say, “we are working on a solution/response, but today we are….”. This should only be used when you then can follow up with a statement about the issue.
You may find that diverting a negative question requires multiple uses of these techniques in the one interview. Mixing and matching them is a good solution. Using the same technique over and over is not!
Like many things in life, practice makes perfect. Get a colleague, friend or family member to help you practice these techniques so you are prepared to use these diversion ideas.