Angry response to question results in own goal | Media First

Angry response to question results in own goal

With yet another general election on the horizon, you might have expected us to feature an interview given by a politician in today's media training blog. 

They are certainly filling the airwaves and there have already been some less than impressive performances.

But we figured that you wouldn't want to read that on a Friday. 

So, we are going to instead feature an interview given by a spokesperson far removed from politics, which resulted in a cringe-worthy example of how not to deal with difficult questions. 

It came from America where football coach Bob Bradley was giving a post-match interview - a pretty standard scenario for anyone involved in sport.

But the Los Angeles FC coach took exception to a question from ESPN journalist Sebastian Salazar about his captain Carlos Vela and his performance in big games. 

Producing one of the worst reactions we have seen to a difficult question – not that it was actually that difficult - Mr Bradley questioned the validity of the question before telling the reporter to "get lost" and storming away from the cameras in a huff. 

Mr Bradley is far from the first person in the media spotlight to have struggled when faced with questions they don’t like. Spokespeople from all sectors have seen interviews fall apart when something is asked which they are uncomfortable answering.

So, how should spokespeople deal with questions they don't like? 

 

Composure

The most important thing for any spokesperson to remember is the importance of maintaining their composure. 

Easier said than done? Well, maybe, but storming out, criticising the reporter, or questioning the question are all reactions that will become the focus of the interview, whether it happens early on or towards the end. 

Just look at how much coverage there was of the former Persimmon Homes boss Jeff Fairburn when he walked out of an interview last year after being asked a perfectly reasonable question about his pay. 

When the Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell struggled to cope with difficult questions during an interview with Tim Vincent, his extraordinary reaction became the focus of much ridicule and even featured on a comedy sketch show. 

 

Thinking time

If a spokesperson has been caught off-guard by a difficult or unexpected question, they should look to buy themselves a little thinking time before launching into an answer.

This could be through a brief moment of silence or a phrase like ‘that’s a good question’ (although this should be used sparingly).

This is a good way for a spokesperson to quickly gather their thoughts and plan in their head how they are going to respond.

 

Bridging

Bridging is the crucial media training tool for dealing with awkward questions.

It enables the spokesperson to briefly answer, or at least acknowledge the question and then steer the conversation on to safer ground.

So, looking at this particular example, Mr Bradley could have said something like ‘that’s not how I see it – what I would say is…’ or ‘I’ve not heard people question him. What I can tell about him is…’

When it is used well, it sounds very natural and it can be difficult for most people to detect and it would have still shown support for his player.

But, when it is used without the necessary subtlety, it can appear that the spokesperson is trying to dodge the question.

 

Preparation

It would be difficult for Mr Bradley to prepare for an on-field interview immediately after the final whistle.

But for other spokespeople, one of the best ways to deal with difficult questions is to prepare for them.

It’s not enough for spokespeople to prepare for potential negative questions about the subject they want to discuss. They also need to consider the wider issues that could be brought into the interview. In other words what else is ‘moving’ in the media that they could be asked about.

This could be something else the organisation has recently been in the news for, some comments made by a senior leader or maybe some recent financial results.

It could also be about a competitor or some issues affecting the sector.

 

Media training

Good quality media training is essential.

It will help those with suspect temperaments control how they respond under the intense scrutiny of a media interview and show them the best techniques for dealing with challenging questions.

 

Mr Bradley is an experienced coach who has done countless media interviews over the years and we can only assume he will have had some media training at some point.

Perhaps it is time for a refresher.

 

Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.

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