Should You Answer the Interviewer Back if You Don’t Like the Question?

Even as we enter the ‘season of goodwill’, the political temperature shows little sign of cooling down, and hot tempers seem to be an increasing feature of the news channels and interview shows. Some, like rail union leader Mick Lynch, seem to particularly enjoy taking on interviewers if they don’t like the line of questioning. For example, quizzed on whether support from rail workers for industrial action was waning, he avoided answering some of the questions, instead angrily accusing the very level-headed Mishal Husain on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme of political bias, saying she was just taking ‘propaganda lines from the other side’ through the ‘filter of the BBC’. She retorted that ‘they’re called questions’. Mr Lynch then also got into a bad-tempered exchange with Richard Madeley on ITV ‘s Good Morning Britain on whether the strikes were being targeted at families around Christmas. He suggested that as Mr Madeley kept interrupting, he might prefer interviewing himself. This sort of fight-back is loved by fans of left-wing websites, but may be less likely to impress members of the wider public who have had their family plans disrupted – he just looked angry and argumentative, or as the New Statesman put it, ‘rattled’.

Similarly, business leaders rarely come out well if they try to criticise the interviewer rather than deal with the issue. A few days earlier, in what some described as a car-crash interview,  energy company boss Bill Bullen of Utilita was asked by Susanna Reid on GMB about the company’s apparently high level of profits when customers were suffering. She pointed out that ‘the turnover is £813 million, the gross profit is £81 million. So your profit is £81 million?’ Mr Bullen angrily retorted ‘No, Susanna, I’m really sorry, but that clearly shows that you don’t know how to read financial statements.’ It emerged the company was actually making a pre-tax loss, and Mr Bullen was obviously unhappy at the implication of profiteering.

On issues such as gross vs net profit vs operational profit vs pre-tax – we might all wish that radio and television presenters were fully qualified to ask in-depth, knowledgeable questions. For that matter, not just about finance, but also the arts, the military, medicine, science and so on – but realistically for a fair amount of the time it’s just not going to happen – some will always be better briefed than others, or trying to make a political point. So what’s the best way to respond? Instead of getting angry, the art is to take the essence of the question and calmly but firmly deal with the issue, even if the interviewer hasn’t framed it correctly. If necessary, just answer the question you would like them to have asked – as in ‘well I’m not sure if I’ve understood your point, but if you’re asking me about X then my answer would be Y’. If the interviewer wants to go for a follow-up, they can do so, but more often not they’ll just carry on.

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