Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Passive Aggressive

I Can’t Help You

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This is a quickie.

In the course of these interviews with political candidates, I have had ocassion to interview some folks who don’t always know what they want to say or how they want to say it.  I completely understand that.  Many times, I have several thoughts going through my mind at once and I often have to make me pause long enough to time the traffic lights in my head.  And sometimes, some people are just a little overwhelmed and could use a teeny bit of help.

But some political candidates don’t realize that it is absolutely … and let me say that again, … it is absolutely their responsibility to know what they want to say before they sit down in front of a microphone.  This is important for several reasons.

First, if you want the people’s confidence and, by virtue, their vote, they need to know you can organize critical thought.  They need to see you know how to mentally put one foot in front of the other.  In other words, how do you think when you’re not under pressure.

Next, they need to see that you can think on your feet.  That you can grab facts and concepts from the air and knit them together in response to unexpected questions.  In other words, how do you think when you are under pressure?

Then, you need to show you are able to stay focused on the question while you’re thinking of your answer.  Consistently drifting off or losing your place does not instill confidence in voters.

Then, you need to show them that you have understanding of an issue or at least the savvy to know how to beg off until you can learn more.  Have you researched it?  Has your staff looked into it?  Do you care?

Then, that you can answer the question that was asked, not just repeat your talking points over and over.  Interviewers aren’t stupid and neither is the public.  We hate that.

And finally, that you can be cool under pressure.  That you can defend yourself and your ideas with aplomb, not dripping with passive aggressiveness.  Nobody likes bitchy from anybody.

All of these are important, autonomous skills that the candidate must have mastered because there will be times, in office, when they will choose to go against the prevailing wind and endure unimaginable pressure from enemies, friends and constituents in business and colleagues in other branches of government.  The voter must believe they can stand alone when they must.

So, when I’m asking a candidate a question that I think, because of the office they have registered for they should certainly be able to answer, and they give me a deer in the headlights look because one of these things either has or hasn’t happened, there is nothing I can (or will) do to save them.

Because these people want you to trust them with your money.  They want you to let them do things in your name.  They want you to give them the authority to shape your life and the lives of the people you love and care about for years into the future.  If they can’t handle a few questions, listeners should seriously think about whether they can handle anything more.

Written by Interviewer

May 7, 2014 at 23:42

When a Laugh is not a Laugh

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This is a quickie.

I’ve talked before about how an interviewer has to be careful sometimes in sharing a laugh with an interviewee.  Laughing can make people seem connected to an idea more so than many other ways people interact.  Sometimes, an interviewer can’t afford to have an audience think they have a particular bent.

But this is about the interviewee’s laugh and not in a good way.  Of course laughter can be natural, fun, disarming.  It is one of the primary ways we connect.  But sometimes, a laugh is an anthropological proxy for something very different.  In some cases, a laugh says that the interviewee is nervous and they are trying to draw the interviewer into the interviewee’s artificial mood so that they can feel more in control of the situation.

Sometimes, a laugh is intended to dismiss, as when an interviewer asks a question and before the question is out, the interviewee is laughing in a way that clearly says, “That’s a ridiculous question”, followed up by something that isn’t a direct affront but sounds passive aggressive or patronizing.

And sometimes, the laugh is a disguise for aggression.  We’ve all seen it.  The conversation that is held behind gritted teeth because to scowl or grimace or bear teeth without the upturned corners of the mouth might jeopardize what the laugher is trying to achieve.  It might be working their way out of an uncomfortable situtation for which they have much embarassment and no appreciation.  Or it could be dealing with someone they dislike or fear but dare not be obvious about it.  Or it could be interacting with someone for whom they have no respect.

There are a lot of interpersonal dynamics in play during an interview.  The interviewer’s job is to keep his in check and not be drawn in by any play on the his ego by the interviewee’s ego.  This includes the seemingly harmless but potentially crippling use of laughter.  I’ve said it before, but it’s important for the interviewer to be nothing but a mirror to the interviewee.  In that way, they lose any ability to manipulate and are left to just answer the question.

Written by Interviewer

April 28, 2014 at 14:23