Do you ever freeze up when you get tough questions from your manager, or just start spitting out words and hope they eventually end up making sense? Once a month Cisco’s CEO John Chambers gets face to face with employees who have birthdays in that month, and takes questions in a town hall format. I always get to ask a question because I always sit in the front row (a subject for another blog.)
This morning I asked him, “John (I call him John), you have led the company through great times and challenging times, and you always seem so poised and confident with the media. What’s your secret to handling tough questions from aggressive reporters?”
He put a thumb on his chin and paused, and said “That’s what I do first. I pause and think.” He went on to describe exactly how he handles press interviews and I think it’s worthy advice:
- Listen carefully to the question.
- Listen to the question behind the question (What are they really getting at?)
- Pause and think about the objective of your answer.
- Make eye contact, use their name and connect with them emotionally.
- Give crisp answers.
- Avoid providing afterthoughts because they can get you in trouble with follow up questions.
- Be transparent. Better to reveal the truth your way before others do it less elegantly.
- Get your planned data points out within the first three questions.
- If they ask you an unfair question, call them on it in a nice way.
- If they burn you with an inaccurate or out of context report, they don’t get a second chance. Set an example of strength.
So whether you get interviewed on camera or blind-sided at the water cooler, there is an art, and a science, to answering tough questions. Keep an eye out for John when he’s on TV. He’s an excellent communication role model.