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“Never answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question that you wish had been asked.” – Robert McNamara
We all have to answer tough questions – in business and in life.
I’m a real ANSWERING QUESTIONS nerd and I carefully study shows like ABC’s Insiders to see how experts ASK and ANSWER QUESTIONS. I also study history.
When I help business leaders (and even some politicians) I often get ASKED about tips on how to answer difficult questions.
One of my favourite bits of advice comes from a US politician Robert McNamara. We can ALL learn a lot from studying US politicians and their advisers – Democrats AND Republicans and from different times in history – especially times of conflict and challenge. Isn’t that MOST times?
Even if we don’t agree with someone’s politics, we can learn from the communication skills of politicians like McNamara.
When it came to answering questions, McNamara advised:
“Never answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question that you wish had been asked.”
Henry Kissenger had a similar approach and would often say to reporters:
“Does anyone have any questions for my answers?”
While I agree with the general premise, I think that in modern politics you shouldn’t always totally avoid a question. It looks evasive and it erodes trust.
It’s better to at least acknowledge the question and then smoothly PIVOT to answering the question you wish you had been asked.
Prepare an answer to a question you wish you’d been asked. After you have at least partly acknowledged or answered a question – pivot to your answer to the question you wish you’d been asked.
As I said, I’m a real nerd for this sort of thing. My nerdiness can help you when you need to prepare to face tough questions.
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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.