Handling questions when you don’t know the answer

By Jeff Heisner

Seeing the Presidential candidates in action is sometimes like watching the Vince Vaughn/Ben Stiller comedy DodgeBall. The candidates find different and creative ways to dodge, avoid and completely not answer direct questions during their interviews. What they are trying to do is called bridging. Bridging is how an interviewee controls the interview by switching the conversation away from a negative situation. Turn on CNN or Fox News any time of day and you’ll hear Trump, Hilary, Bernie and their supporters dodging those questions they don’t want to answer. Some do it very well, while others do more harm than good.

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Deflecting questions you don’t want to answer is an art and needs to be done tactfully. Many times you will have to use these techniques when answering questions that you don’t have the information, aren’t sure about the right response, or even when you’re stumped.

Saying “no comment” or “I don’t know” won’t cut it. These answers can make you look incompetent or like you have something to hide.

12qazzHere are some situations and ways to handle them when you don’t have the answer to a reporters questions.

  • As we said, deflecting questions you don’t want to answer needs to be done tactfully. I always recommend acknowledging the reporters question. Don’t avoid it completely. This will only make you look untrustworthy. First acknowledge the question and then steer it back to one of you main messages. For example, “While that’s an important point, I think the main point is…”
  • You may be dealing with important information which you don’t have readily available or someone else in your company may be the expert on this subject. It is absolutely OK to tell a reporter that you don’t have that information right now, but will be happy to get it to them before their deadline. Then go back to the office, do the research and make sure you get the reporter the information you promised.
  • Many times reporters will ask hypothetical and leading questions that can shine a bad light on you or your company. Speculating on any kind of negative situation is never recommend. It’s much better to steer the interview away from the negative and towards your talking points and then offer a positive example that supports you goals.
  • Multiple questions can come flying at you all at once. Don’t feel like you have the answer to all of them. If this happens, respond to the question which you are most comfortable answering. Make sure it is a firm and confident answer. It is OK to ignore the others, but be prepared for the follow up questions.

Thoughtfully answering questions, when you don’t have the answers can be difficult. It takes practice and if you’re not prepared a good reporter will hound you for the information until they get their answer. Practice some of the situations as you prepare for your interviews. See if you can skillfully handle the questions better than this year’s candidates.