Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

The Stutter Step

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stutter step

This is a quickie.

Kai Ryssdal is the host of Marketplace on American Public Media.  He is interviewing Jack Lew, the Secretary of the Treasury and clearly channeling the American consumer, taxpayer & citizen.  Mr. Lew is bullish on the economy.  Kai Ryssdal is pushing him as to why it seems the economy is still dragging.  Mr. Lew says people don’t forget quickly when they lose significant pieces of their lives like houses and jobs.  Fair enough.

But Kai also challenged Mr. Lew when he said businesses are waiting to reinvest in the economy.  Kai said we’ve been hearing for years that businesses need to reinvest but they aren’t.  What’s it going to take?

And finally, he called Mr. Lew on how, whether or not the US gets “upset”, applies sanctions and finds the things Russia, China, Syria, North Korea, et al, does unacceptable – does it mean anything and does it help or hurt US credibility in the world when it seems to US actions seem to not matter. FYI, Mr. Ryssdal can be a clown sometimes, but he can also quickly turn to a viper.

Anyway, in response to those last two, I heard it.  From Mr. Lew, the stutter.  When an interviewee is unsettled by the answer or the question, they do tend to stutter.  It may not mean they doubt what they’re saying.  But it doesn’t imply a strong reply.  And the culture tends to equate stuttering with lying.  Remember “Stutter” from the R&B singer, Joe?  Coincidentally, in the song, the girlfriend stutters even though it was her twin having the affair.

Stuttering is not necessarily a sign of lack of confidence either. Stuttering is sometimes popularly seen as a symptom of anxiety, but there is actually no direct correlation in that direction (though the inverse can be true, as social anxiety may actually develop in individuals as a result of their stuttering, manifesting at its peak if one has just stuttered in a situation or manner the stutterer believes especially unfortunate; as the spike in anxiety can be near-instantaneous, often becoming apparent in mid-syllable, a casual observer will tend to mistake the effect for the cause).

And Mr. Lew, maybe Russia isn’t bothered by US and European sanctions much because they are grabbing the territories and treasuries of former neighbors as a way to offset those sanctions.  But, as Kai likes to say, … I digress.

Bottom line: Just because someone stutters in an interview or a conversation doesn’t necessarily mean they are hiding something.

Good job staying on Mr. Lew for some good answers, Mr. Ryssdal.

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Written by Interviewer

April 26, 2014 at 08:50

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