By Callie Oettinger | Published: February 15, 2013
I spent a few hours this week going over interview strategies with a friend.
My favorite play is “the pivot.”
It goes into play when the interviewer asks his or her guest a question that the guest isn’t interested in answering.
That’s an interesting question, but there’s another question that I’ve been thinking about . . .
Why not answer it?
Could be a few different things.
The guest might have something to hide.
Though it didn’t come in the form of an interview, interviewers asked Lance Armstrong the “What are you on?” question for years. His pivot came via a Nike Commercial.
What am I on? I’m on my bike busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?
The interview time might be running out and the guest has a point he wants to fit in.
Last year, Governor Christie was short on time during a press conference, when a reporter asked an off topic question.
“Did I say on topic? Are you stupid? On topic, on topic. Next question.”
Not the politest pivot, but a time-related pivot nonetheless.
The question might be uninformed or have such an obvious answer that you have to wonder why the question was even asked.
Whether you agree with his politics or not, his answer falls into the category of someone wondering why they are being asked something with such an obvious answer.
Reporter: “How do you feel about not tying border security to citizenship?”
McCain: “What do you mean ‘not tying it’?”
Reporter: “Basically your plan…”
McCain: “Didn’t you see the press conference? Did you happen to miss it? What do you mean, ‘not tying’?”
Reporter: “But if somebody were to come out with a statement saying…”
McCain: “If somebody were to come out that’s in contradiction to what we said, we’d say we disagree with it. Duh.”
Presidential debates are classic venues for the pivot. The moderator asks one question, the candidates answer another.
At home, my kids follow the classic candidate debate format, not even trying to casually change the direction. They flat out answer a question that wasn’t asked, usually by offering up another question.
Me: Did you clean your room?
Five-year-old: What are we having for dinner?
In sports, the pivot often follows the “how upset?” or “how embarrassed?” questions that always follow games. The reporter catches the point guard for the losing team and, boom, there it is: “How upset were you that you lost?” Many of the seasoned athletes rarely miss a beat and go into exactly what happened in the game. “Yes, we’re upset, but . . . Here’s what worked . . . Here’s what we need to work on . . .”
In the case of Coach Mark Richt, after his team’s loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship game, the pivot came when he turned the answer on the reporter:
Reporter: “There are some people, whether it’s fans, media, or whomever else, that will maybe want to make further conclusions about you or your quarterback, specifically, in big games. Would you have any response to those people?”
Richt: “I don’t know what you’re saying. Why don’t you just say it straight up what you’re trying to say.”
Reporter: “People will say that you and Aaron Murray specifically come up short on the biggest stage against the biggest opponents. Do you have any response to that?”
Richt: “Is that what you’re saying or everybody else? If that’s what you’re say . . . Are you saying that?”
Reporter: “No, I’m saying I hear that every day—“
Richt: “Well than that’s for you to worry about then. If that’ what you say, then I’ll answer the question. If you think other people are saying that, I’m not worried about that.”
We’ve all engaged in the pivot play at one point, whether we realize it or not.
The form the pivot takes will determine how we’re received. In the case of Armstrong, it was a clever, non-confrontational pivot that kept us guessing a decade longer.
For Christie, McCain and Richt, there are some who praised their styles and others who slotted them under “testy” and rude.
One of my favorite pivots came when I watched Col. T.X. Hammes do an interview in 2004, when journalists continued to use the word “terrorist” and Col. Hammes was using the word “insurgent”—a word that was not yet in wide use in conversations about the current war.
The reporter asked Col. Hammes a question about terrorism and Hammes replied:
“That’s a good question, but one that needs asking is . . . “
And from that point, the discussion changed.
I don’t have the video to share for that one, and my memory is hazy on the outlet on which I first noticed him pivot, but it still stands out because of how much he fit into that interview. Much of what he was talking about was new to reporters. They weren’t asking the best questions, so he led the interviews. He altered the dialog. He changed the conversation.
Pivots appear within all areas of our lives.
And, as with everything else in this world, pivots take both good and bad forms—and are put into play for selfish and for altruistic reasons.
Col. Hammes’ form is the one I always suggest. However, it’s good to study the others, too.
Learn the options so you can identify the difference between a defensive pivot and an offensive pivot—so that when you’re in the a pivot position, you can make a play that will improve the conversation.