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Tuesday
Oct132015

Not answering questions – don’t try this at work

 

I remember an episode of the British comedy program Yes, Minister (it could have been Yes, Prime Minster) where the civil servant schools the Minster in how NOT to answer a question. As I remember it, there were six ways not to answer any hardball questions that might come your way. By the way, I have not been able to find any reference to these six ways anywhere on-line but below is how I remember them.

At work, it’s a bad habit to get into that has you avoiding answering questions. It looks like you have something to hide. Even when you don’t know the answer, transparency is always the best option. Think of these 6 ways as traps not to fall into. 

Of course, as we approach an Election in the US, all six of these are very visible. Watch the next political debate and make it a drinking game – when you see one of these used, take a shot! Actually, you better not. You may

find yourself very drunk - and quite quickly.

1. Questions Queried

The fastest way to buy yourself some time is to question the question. What do you mean by that, you ask? Can you define the terms? Over what time period did you mean? Ask them enough questions about their question and they will either forget what they asked or get bored. The best example ever was when Bill Clinton said, “It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is.’

2. Answer Ambiguity

Of course the classic way not to answer the question is just to talk yourself and the audience in circles. Avoid giving any real specifics and tell a story with no real linkage. You might get called on it but you can probably just keep talking. At any point in a debate when a ‘red light’ means time up, you will see someone ‘running out the clock.’

3. Data Distortion

You say the glass is half full and I say it’s half empty. It’s all in the telling. 

A favorite of almost any politician is to selectively use data to prove their point. Luckily they can always find a study or a new clipping that makes their case. You never know if the data is accurate or really representative. 

4. Fact Fudging

A branch off Data Distortion is fact fudging, or lying as we used to call it. Of course it’s not really a lie but a half truth. In this election we are going to be told that one person or another has voted for or against some piece of legislation which proves they either hate something or love something else. A deeper dive will probably show that what ever is being called out was a minor part of a law or was an amendment to some bill or other. Well, some will say “that’s politics”. It’s also disingenuous.

5. Moral Maneuverability

Moral Maneuverability solves one of a politician’s hardest problems – how do you change your views on something and get away with it. Basically, it’s the perfect ‘flip-flop’. The answer is to change your moral position on something and do it so sincerely that anyone challenging you comes off as the loser. For example: you were pro-choice but you watched the videos about Planned Parenthood, so now you are pro-life.

6.    Emotional Elasticity

When all else fails – use an emotional appeal. Where this works well is to be outraged at something that doesn’t really outrage you. Again, it would take a brave soul to challenge you. We see President Obama do this often when he thinks he can end a debate by being offended that his motives are being challenged.

Bottom Line

It is worth remembering that 70% of the effectiveness of any speech is what you look like and 23% is what you sound like. That means only 7% is actually what you say. The challenge in any debate on TV, as Richard Nixon found out years ago, is not to let the physical get in the way of the verbal. Beware the fake laugh, the mean stare and the look of frustration.

At work you will not get away with any of these ploys. You need to be honest, open and answer the question you get asked. In real life, not knowing the answer is not a ‘fail’ as long as you can come back and answer it later. While it’s fun to watch our politicians, as they say on those action TV ads, don’t try this at home.

 

For more content like this please check out my book called "Become a 21st Century Executive" or visit me at the3minutementor.com

 

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