Artfully Answering the Wrong Questions with the Right Answers
Robin Hanson asks in a recent post on her blog Overcomingbias, “Why is modest question evasion so often tolerated in TV and radio interviews?” Her question was sparked by a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology’s April Issue that found that listeners often won’t notice discrepancies between the question that was asked and the answer that is delivered as long as it is done smoothly and confidently.
And that’s not all, some people prefer to hear a wrong answer artfully delivered rather than the right answer delivered awkwardly. Here is what the study authors, Harvard psychologists Todd Rogers and Michael Norton said:
“We propose that dodges go undetected because listeners' attention is not usually directed toward a goal of dodge detection (i.e., Is this person answering the question?) but rather toward a goal of social evaluation (i.e., Do I like this person?). Listeners were not blind to all dodge attempts, however. Dodge detection increased when listeners' attention was diverted from social goals toward determining the relevance of the speaker's answers, when speakers answered a question egregiously dissimilar to the one asked, and when listeners' attention was directed to the question asked by keeping it visible during speakers' answers…”
Skillfully transitioning from questions you are asked to a subject you want to talk about is a technique called bridging. And it’s a useful tool for controlling an interview when a reporter asks a question that’s tricky to answer or off topic. It is also received a lot better than openly evading the question. And according to Rogers and Norton, the bridge may not even be picked up on because human brains aren’t very good at tracking this type of transition, especially when they’re not specifically looking for it.
There are several ways to find your way back to your message. One is to acknowledge the question briefly and then transition to your message. Notice how differently two presidential candidates answered a question about alien life in this video from a democratic debate during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Did you notice how then Senator Barack Obama acknowledged the question he was asked, and then quickly transitioned to his standard campaign messages?
Remember, nothing will capture people’s attention like a compelling, well-crafted message delivered with confidence and passion.
About The Institute
Building on Burness Communications’ work with more than 300 groups in the United States and around the world, the Institute offers academic and nonprofit organizations media, policy and advocacy training along with academic coursework on advocacy, as well as coaching. Our training goes beyond smiling on camera and using proper etiquette in meetings with policymakers. We aim to help you speak so clearly that the people you want to motivate will understand — and be moved to act. More