How to Handle Questions You Don't Want to Answer

Last Updated Jul 17, 2008 10:00 AM EDT

There are really two types of questions that you think you don't want to answer: questions you don't have an easy answer to, and truly touchy questions that you'd really rather not answer. Here's a process for figure out which is which:

Preparation is the key to success:

  • Brainstorm potential questions
  • Develop answers (or non-answers) in advance. You'll probably find that a lot of questions you think you didn't want to answer you can answer, one way or the other, if you give yourself time to think through the right answer

"Bridge" away from questions you don't want to answer to the safer ground of what you do want to talk about:

  • First, acknowledge the question and provide some sort of answer to the question asked â€" don't just ignore it
  • Then, "bridge" to what you do what to talk about: "I'm glad you asked that because it's something we're taking very seriously. I can't provide you with a lot of information on that right now, but what I can say is--"
  • Stand your ground: once you have answered, do not allow yourself to be drawn into answering it again if the reporter repeats or rephrases

Good ways to say anything but "No Comment" to questions you really don't want to answer:

  • "I'm sorry but I'm not able to speak to that subject"
  • "Thanks for asking but I'm not able to answer that question"
  • "I'm sorry but that information is proprietary"

How to handle emotional questions:

  • Acknowledge the emotional content ("I understand your concern--"), then bridge back to your messages ("-- but what I'd like to talk about is--")

Know your rights as an interviewee:

  • If you don't understand a question, ask the reporter to rephrase it
  • If you don't know an answer, say so
  • Jon Greer

    Jon Greer has been analyzing media and PR for more than 25 years. He's been a journalist and a PR executive, and has been a featured speaker for many years at the Bulldog Reporter Media Relations Summit, and served as Bulldog's Editorial Director for their PR University series of weekly how-to audio conferences.

    Jon provides PR services including media relations and freelance writing to clients including start-ups, law firms, corporations, investment banks and venture capital firms. In addition, Jon provides spokesperson training. Learn more about Jon's training programs at The Media Bridge.