Meaningful conversation can be a deeply personal experience. Engaging with another person with such openness can be a delicate procedure. This becomes especially true in the format of a structured interview.
There are several types of one-on-one interviews. Whether it is for the media, or business-to-business, several principles remain the same. It is important to remember that with a structured interview the objective is to relay information or a message.
In an interview there can often be a perceived power imbalance that can make you feel uncomfortable. This is the first hurdle to overcome to obtain open and honest communication. Luckily, with the application of some basic principles we can overcome this barrier:
Building rapport: This is not mere small talk, but real conversation – where rapport can show genuine interest in the person and empathy for their experience. Your answer can be relaxed, however, take care to keep to your key message points and don’t be drawn into sharing other company information. A personable approach can win you favour with the interviewer, and they begin to see you as an ally.
Showing empathy: This can encourage open communication by validating their feelings and letting them know that you share similar experiences. We can share thoughts and experiences if appropriate, but focus primarily on reacting correctly – perhaps compassionately to new information they are telling you. This can seem trivial, but it can go a long way to humanising you and your company in the eyes of the audience. A compelling point made sincerely may reach others if the interview is redistributed.
Stick to the message: Every interview has a purpose, and your key messages also help structure the conversation around your specific subject, or an incident response. A news interviewer can often get off topic, so use techniques such as bridging and redirecting to bring them back to your message – such as: “You make a good point, but the situation as we see it currently is…” or, “Yes, I saw the video footage, but it is worth pointing out…” etc.
Stay calm: When asked a question your answers should be simple and direct, remembering your prepared points. If asked an emotionally charged or personal question, avoid rising to it by becoming too emotional, even upset. Remember, as a spokesperson you are representing a company. Your words and behavior are respectful, perhaps firm about a contrary position, but better to show people that you are calm, controlled, and there to tell an important story.
‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers: Whilst these can seem the safest replies, they don’t drive an interview forward. It becomes uninteresting and tedious for the interviewer – and the audience. It is OK to politely repeat, or reword, the same answers to remain focused on your message.
Silence: A technique commonly used by interviewers when they ask a question, let you answer, and simply wait in silence until you offer more information. This is effective because it is uncomfortable to sit in silence, and we naturally want to fill it. But beware, do not share more than you are supposed to as you become comfortable in the silence. If necessary, you can ask them if they have any other questions.
Much of what we communicate is not with our words, but through non-verbal actions such as body language, mannerisms, and facial gestures. Even if they don’t realise it, people listen less to your voice and more to what you do.
We should communicate with open hands and in an unguarded manner. Keep your hands open and moving in a natural manner, but be careful not to make large, exaggerated movements. If you talk with your hands this will come very naturally to you. Also be mindful of facial expressions; avoid scowling, frowning, etc. If sitting, place both feet on the floor or cross them under your chair. If standing, lock out your knee on one leg to prevent swaying. Using open and neutral body language will go a long way to getting your message across without non-verbal interference.
Conversely, we should also be cognizant of what the interviewer is telling us with their non-verbal communication. Non-verbal behaviors such as folded arms or crossed legs can indicate being closed off, covering of the mouth while talking can indicate deception or shame, eye contact and postures also can tell us things that are not articulated in words. While many of these mannerisms are nuanced and culturally variable, they remain significant. Noticing non-verbal cues can let us know how the interviewer is feeling during the interaction and how your message is being received.
When I have been interviewed by members of the media these concepts have become useful assets in the process of establishing narratives and disseminating information. Working in every capacity of law enforcement, I found that showing people that you care and are there to help goes a long way. The approach may seem counterintuitive to some, but I have found it to be the most effective strategy in communicating a message.
Isaac joins the Navigate Response team after seven years serving as a Public Information Officer for a Sheriff’s Office in south east Idaho where he was responsible for media relations, social media coordination, and community relations – in addition to investigation, interview, and patrol work.