Whenever you’re asked a tough professional question – or even an easy question – what you say at the very start of your response is vital to your success.
Be assured that your questioners – and any wider audience – will typically begin forming a view about how helpful you and your answer are from the moment you open your mouth.
If at the outset you come across as being unhelpful – by shying away from giving a straight honest response – you’re adversely affecting your reputation.
Let’s check out two examples to illustrate the point.
Both involve public figures on the Conservative side of British politics.
One makes a very bad start dealing with a question that he really should have been expecting.
The other – who is in a much tougher position owing to a growing scandal within the organisation he chairs – makes a much better and more responsible start.
This is because, rather than dodging the question, he focuses right at the outset on what matters most to his audience.
The very bad start comes from former Brexit negotiator, David Davis, who served for two years as Secretary of State for Exiting The European Union.
So some time after that exit took place, it seems reasonable to ask him how things are going.
That’s what hard-headed interviewer Andrew Neil quizzed David Davis about, starting with the simple question: “What’s the good news on this Brexit that you’ve got us into?”
Amazingly, David Davis was not ready for it.
His opening response is abysmal.
He starts with a silly laugh – as if it’s a stupid question.
Things then get worse.
David Davis’s opening words are: “I think, I think, I think I’ll come back in a year and answer that question when we’re out of Covid.”
Come back with an answer in a year’s time???
Andrew Neil wasn’t having that!!!
He persists with his quest for a reasonable answer to a relevant inquiry.
But after his poor start, David Davis digs himself deeper.
He repeats his feeble attempt to get invited back to deal with it in a year’s time.
Then he seeks to blame problems regarding bad Brexit arrangements on those so-called “remainers” who opposed the idea.
At the end of his blathering, David Does does – eventually – come up with a single fair positive point.
It’s about the fact that Britain, outside the European Union, can now make trade arrangements independently with the rest of the world.
But it’s so far into his response that the strength of his point is heavily diluted.
Painful though the viewing experience is, you can watch the start of the David Davis interview by clicking on the following arrow.
One public figure who knows the importance of the say-it-first “Primacy Effect” is the former politician who has the dubious distinction of being the current Chair of The British Museum.
It’s most unfortunate for him that the museum has been rocked by a major international theft scandal.
With the revelation that many of the museum’s treasures have been stolen -with some offered for sale on the internet – George Osborne, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, is in an awkward position as the museum chair.
To his credit he takes ownership of the problem and says what the public needs to hear first.
This is an apology – but one coupled with some important positive messages.
George Osborne admits that more should have been done by the museum to prevent the thefts.
Crucially, he undertakes to clean up the mess.
And he gives some positive news about the museum starting to recover some of the stolen items.
He then pledges, in the aftermath of the departure of disgraced senior museum executives, to deliver the stronger leadership that the public – and remaining staff of the museum – deserve.
So George Osborne is not shying away from providing answers for another year!
Owning a problem in your organisation you’re being asked about – even if you didn’t personally cause it – is the responsible approach.
Getting straight to the point really matters!
There’s more about getting one-to-one and group guidance on giving great answers to tough questions here:
To find out about guiding your team to become inspirational communicators – with a performance-enhancing keynote at your conference or another event – click here:
To get the book on giving great answers to blowtorch-on-the-belly questions at work, go to:
And whenever you’re seeking to convey something that makes a positive impact in a challenging situation, say it at the start!