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Side-stepping difficult questions – go wide, go forward #Rugby example

This technique is very valuable. This is from an earlier post from a turbulent time for Australia’s rugby union team – the Wallabies – and for the coach Ewen McKenzie.

If you need to get past a difficult question – you can borrow a technique used recently by former Wallabies Coach Ewen McKenzie in the lead-up to Blesisloe Cup 3.


At the time he gave the pre-match interview, most of us didn’t know that he told officials he was going to announce his resignation after the game.

rugby montage

I’m a rugby fan who works in corporate communication. I have a huge respect for the communication skills of rugby commentators and some rugby talent (players/captains/coaches etc).

I often re-watch and analyse the communication techniques and share some of the “moves” I see.

Anyway, when I first watched the coverage I didn’t know McKenzie had told officials that he would resign no matter the result of game 3.

Early in the coverage, Gordon Bray has to ask a Ewen a tough and personal question:

GB: question

John Eales described it as the week from hell.

How difficult has it been for you.


Notice how Ewen – very briefly addresses the personal question (without really saying anything) and then moves attention wider to the Wallabies team. (goes wider)

Also, he moves forward, not getting stuck in what HAS BEEN difficult but what is happening NOW and what WILL soon be happening. I’ve highlighted In CAPS key words.

EM: answer
It’s been a tough few weeks actually (smile and laugh) – but that doesn’t stop US from GETTING the preparation right. I think THE GUYS ARE really concentrated. WE’ve got a pretty good game plan I think for this game. WE’ve obviously had a couple of goes and haven’t got that right in the first test – so hopefully third time lucky.

When I train executives how to handle tough questions, we practise and practise answering tough questions – to move from past problems to focus on what IS being done or what WILL be done to handle a problem.

I encourage you to do the same – focus on what’s happenING. Use -ing words.

Also, focus on what you have got and what you ARE doing – rather then what you haven’t –

the guys ARE really concentrated. We’ve GOT a pretty good game plan.

EM 2

It’s interesting to look back at that interview, now knowing Ewen had already said he was going to resign.

To me, Ewen looked relaxed and at ease during the interview. To me, it seemed like HIS tough work (resigning) had been done.

I think Ewen is a solid rather than an overly slick or smooth communicator. I do however think he handled that tough question very smoothly and gracefully.

In answering the question – he didn’t lie – he just directed attention from himself and the painful past week/s to the broader team AND to what was happening or what was soon to happen at the game.

So I encourage you to remember if you get a tough question about past problems directed to you personally – GO WIDE, GO FORWARD.

If you are a rugby fan interested in improving your communication skills – here are some other rugby-related posts you’ll probably enjoy and benefit from!

how to spin out of difficult questions – the way Michael Hooper spins out of tackles

How to answer questions concisely and convincingly like like Matt Burke


TB Media mosaic

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I blog about fun pop culture stuff as well as more serious business communication tips.

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These days, lots of people and organisations need help with how to COPE with too much work, too much information, too many meetings, delivering difficult news, business writing, effective e-mail, e-mail overload, cross-cultural communication, better social media engagement etc. I like to help people COPE.



One comment on “Side-stepping difficult questions – go wide, go forward #Rugby example

  1. efangelist
    July 29, 2015

    Reblogged this on efangelist.

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