How to Handle the Five Common Issues of Hostile Questions with Help from Communispond
November 11, 2015

ROCHESTER, NY | EAST HAMPTON, NY, Nov 11, 2015 – Communispond, Inc., the leader in communication skills training, takes a look at the recent Republican presidential primary held on October 28, 2015. This primary debate brought up a great talking point—how to handle hostile questions.

Most of the questions the moderators asked the candidates were the equivalent of, "That guy says you’re a dope. What are you going to do about it?" They were "gotcha" questions, not about giving the responding candidate an opportunity to say anything substantive but to give one of the others an opening to attack the responder.

They asked Mike Huckabee, for example, whether he thought Donald Trump had “the moral authority to unite the country.” They asked Donald Trump if he was running “a comic book version of a presidential campaign.” They quoted John Kasich as saying his rivals’ policies were crazy then asked, not why he thought the policies were crazy, but which of the other candidates he was talking about. 

CNBC’s strategy resulted in chaos, with a lot of people interrupting each other, a lot of people talking over each other, and precious little discussion of real issues. For the most part, the candidates did not even bother to answer the questions posed by the moderators throughout the evening. But you can hardly blame them. Almost none of the questions had any bearing on the critical issues the country is facing. On the other hand, when you’re trying to sell yourself to the electorate, you don’t do yourself any favors by not answering questions. It makes you appear evasive. 

At Communispond, people are trained to deal with hostile questions every day. Their method is to respond to the issue rather than the questioner’s motives.

Deal with a hostile question by first listening for the issue. Always respond to the issue, never the hostility. Unlike the Republican candidates, you probably aren’t trying to sell your candidacy. You’re probably trying to persuade an audience to adopt a proposal. And the most common challenge question you are likely to get is, “Why are you proposing this?”

Depending on which words of the question are emphasized by the questioner, this could be aimed at any of the five common issues:

  • Priority (“Why are you proposing this and not something else?”)
  • Feasibility (“How can we hope to accomplish this?”)
  • Cost (“Why should we spend money on this?”)
  • Timing (“Why should we do this now?”)
  • Competence (“Who are you to propose this?”). 

You may have to listen carefully to get a sense of which issue the questioner is addressing. But if you name the issue and then read it back, you can make the question neutral:

Question: Why are you proposing this?

Rephrase: Are we competent to implement this recommendation?

Explain, neutrally and briefly, why you are competent to implement the recommendation, and conclude the answer on a positive note, like, “We've never been better prepared for a program like this.” 

Your answer needs one more thing. Tie it to the benefits you are promising the audience: “That’s how I think it will save us millions of dollars.”

By rephrasing the question and responding to the issue in a positive way and then relating the answer to the benefits, you can neutralize almost any challenging or hostile question and reinforce your persuasive message. Above all, don’t ever lose your temper. You may not be running for office, but the audience is evaluating your proposal by evaluating you, and anything that makes them uncomfortable raises their resistance to being persuaded.