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New political communication Pt 2 – Acknowledge a tough question don’t just Avoid

Whether you are a politician or a business person or a spokesperson for a cause or a media adviser – we can all learn lessons from the recent Queensland election where it looks as if the conservative government (with a massive majority) will be kicked out after one term.

qld votes

As I write this, votes are still being counted – the outcome is uncertain.

What IS certain is that the conservative LNP was severely “punished” by voters. A common criticism of the LNP was the communication style that was described as “arrogant”.

In part 2 of this series (inspired by the recent election) I share how you can win greater trust by at least acknowledging tough questions rather than just avoiding them.

There’s a link to Part 1 (the set-up and context and Anticipating questions) – at the end of this post.

In part 1, I shared how many politicians either avoided a questions they didn’t want to answer – or worse gave bullshit answers most people would not believe.

The questions included:

Who is likely to be the next leader of the NLP?

Will you put your hand up for the leadership role?

qld votes 2

LNP transport minister Scott Emerson got around the question with the usual old tactic of not answering it.

Here’s the old avoid the question tactic:

(Pause) – to put some distance between the question and the answer.

My focus tonight is….

Then when asked again –

As I said, my focus tonight is….

It’s the classic old response – and in my opinion Scott executed the old technique smoothly – not really answering the question and when asked again using the old “broken record” technique.

From my recent experience helping CEOs and a few politicians answer tough questions – just completely avoiding a question gets the audience annoyed and angry. (well, Australian audiences anyway who hate political bullshit)

In my opinion – based on experience as a journalist and then media adviser to the Shadow Attorney General of NSW – it’s more effective to Acknowledge rather than Avoid.

You don’t have to fully answer the question – but at least acknowledge it and explain when it can be answered or the reason for any delay in answering it.

A better response could start with something like:

I understand that’s a question everyone wants to know.
I ask you and your audience to understand that tonight my/our focus is on…

This response at least shows you appreciate that people want to know about this important question. You are not seen as simply avoiding the question.

It also uses the reciprocity principle explained by Persuasion/Influence expert Robert Cialdini.

Robert-Cialdini Influence

You give something – and it’s a common response for your audience to feel compelled to give something in return.

You understand their need – they understand your need.

You could also use the words – I appreciate instead of I understand.

It’s not enough these days for politicians or business people to just totally ignore and avoid questions.

You should anticipate difficult questions and practise out loud what your response will be.

Another more modern political response to a tough question is the partial agreement and pivot.

Find something to agree with – then smoothly pivot to your main message.

The agreement takes the energy of the question, makes you look honest, and often satisfies the questioner.

For example:

Q: Now the polls suggested that X (the leader) could lose his seat. You must have planned for a new leader. Who is that likely to be?

A: Partial agreement and pivot *you’d need to get party clearance and practise and refine what you can agree with.

Usually if something is true and well known – it isn’t a problem.

You’re right – some polls HAVE suggested we may need a new leader. Tonight our focus is on the election result. We’ll ponder those other questions tomorrow.

You could even add some humility and ask or patience and understanding.

I know everyone wants to know this. These matters take time and I ask for your understanding and patience in this. Tonight our focus is…


I understand everyone wants to know this. I ask you to understand that we need to see what happens and if necessary make any announcements formally and properly. It’s the right thing to do.

The old school approach was that the tone of the above response would be seen as week.

Two other words that kept coming up in the election coverage were humility and showing respect for the electorate.

I’m keen to know your views. Please add in the comments section below.

Here’s a link to part 1:

New Political Communication – Pt 1


TB Media mosaic

If you enjoyed this post – Let’s connect:
If you found this post interesting you can follow me and connect with me.
I blog about fun pop culture stuff as well as more serious business communication tips.

Linked In – under Tony Biancotti
Or you can follow this blog.

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 “New political communication Pt 2 – Acknowledge a tough question don’t just Avoid

  1. efangelist
    April 21, 2015

    Reblogged this on efangelist.

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