Before you put your mouth in gear, know what you want to say — and what doesn’t need to be said. This transcends media relations and creeps into our everyday lives.
Repeating the negative. Something negative being said about you? Whatever else you do, avoid repeating the allegation. That just calls more attention. It also creates a negative sound bite that you absolutely don’t want coming from your mouth.
Solution: Know the story you want to tell, decide on your key points, and stick to them. By putting your spin on the situation, you limit the airtime and emphasis that the accusation gets. (The result is reminiscent of the childhood taunt: “’I’m rubber. You’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”)
“That’s a good question.” Really?? Does this mean all the other questions aren’t good — or that those asking them aren’t as bright? Are you stalling for time? Are you sincerely trying to compliment the questioner’s astuteness? Even if you mean it innocently, there are so many ways this could be taken wrong.
Solution: It doesn’t add anything. Omit it. If there’s something you want to talk about or a point you want to make, you needn’t hope that someone asks the right question. Remember the old truism: Don’t answer the question you’re asked; answer the one you want.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter.” Are you saying the outcome was foreordained? This is no way to inspire an audience. Imagine they’d listened to you laying out your case for 5 minutes (or, heaven forbid, even longer), only to have you sum it up as irrelevant. What a letdown. Are they likely to take you seriously in the future?
Solution: Eliminate it entirely. It devalues their perception of you and undermines your credibility.
“Look…” Did you just tense up and get defensive? You betcha. If you had hoped your blunt tone would calm or chasten the other person, you’re wrong. Its effect will be exactly the opposite.
Solution: I’d like to find this as entertaining as the viral video “Linda, Honey. Listen.” But it’s not. Your dismissive demeanor simply heightens any tension that already exists — and creates it if it doesn’t.
“With all due respect.” By far, this is like candy to my ears. Whenever someone starts a sentence this way, you just know a juicy insult and drama aren’t far behind. No one believes you sincerely intend to show respect, and everyone is figuratively rubbing their hands together in anticipation of the put-down that’s about to come.
Solution: It depends on what your goal is. If you’re trying to signal that everyone should listen closely because you’re about to call the person or idea “stupid,” then by all means say it. If you’re not, own the fact you’re about to disagree with that person. No need to fake sugar coat it.
To explore even more wrong ways to answer questions, see our earlier post How Not to Answer a Question.
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Gillott Communications is a Strategic PR firm. We’re Fixers. Crisis & Reputation Management. Litigation. Media Relations. Crisis Prep. More than half a century of expertise working with clients to resolve issues both in and outside the media’s glare — in their professional and personal lives.
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