8 ways to deflect loaded interview questions
Some politicians and top managers have mastered the art of avoiding answers to difficult media interview questions. Others haven’t. Some forethought can turn any interview into a more positive result.
I cringe every time an interviewee increases the impact of an awkward question by repeating it with a denial that only reinforces the accusation in the minds of the audience. For instance, “No, we haven’t used the funds improperly” or “No, our company isn’t heading towards bankruptcy.” They should not requote the question but should use positive language, instead saying something like “The funds have been used for a proper purpose – for …” and “Our financial position is quite viable.”
They may also fall into the trap of saying something like “As I said before, …”, which makes them sound as though many people are pursuing them over this matter, or they are parroting the same line to everyone.
The traditional news media still dominate the news sector ahead of social media, and so being aware of ways to prevent being ambushed in news interviews remains a valuable skill.
Successfully dealing with nasty questions can be achieved with some reasonable preparation and practice. When a questioner has unfairly ambushed you, there is not a direct way of answering without you seeming guilty. This is the classic “When did you stop beating your wife?” or “Have you stopped beating your wife?” question. You can say, “I never started,” but human psychology means you are still associated with wife-beating in the mind of the listener or viewer. Here are some tips for dealing with unfair questions:
Tips on responding to loaded questions
Acknowledge the question without answering it.
(“That’s a good question, and I think we should consider the implications by looking at…” [avoiding an answer].)
Ignore the question completely.
However, this is a high-risk approach because the interviewer may repeat the question or reword it slightly to return to the subject. This tends to make the interviewee look evasive.
Question the question.
(a) Request clarification or further information about the question. This works as a delaying tactic in a short interview.
(b) Reflect the question back to the interviewer (“Why do you ask me that?”)
4. Attack the question,
on the basis of:
(a) The question fails to tackle the important issue.
(b) The question is based on a false assumption.
(c) The question is factually inaccurate.
(d) The question is too personal or objectionable.
5. Decline to answer.
Refuse to answer on the basis that it is not your area of responsibility. (“You will have to ask [name, or ‘someone else’] about that because I’m not involved at all in that part of the situation.”)
6. Give an incomplete answer.
(a) Partial answer.
(b) Start to answer but change the subject.
(c) Negative answer. You state what won’t happen instead of what will happen.
7. State or imply the question has already been answered
(“I’m not going to go over old ground.”)
8. Defer to the will of others.
Refer to the will of constituents or shareholders etc and imply you are doing your duty by complying with their will.