What's Your Most Dreaded Question?
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How could you let this happen?
It's the one question students in our media training workshops say is the most difficult to answer in the wake of a major crisis involving deaths or injuries.
It evokes emotion. It implies you did something terrible. It insinuates you somehow had the power to prevent a tragic event, yet did nothing. It's the kind of question - or accusation - that you take personally.
When it's asked by a television reporter, it can strike fear in your heart. When asked by a young mother - tears in her eyes - concerned about the health and safety of her children because of something your company did, you feel totally helpless.
Like it or not, there's not much if anything we can do to prevent someone from asking it. There is, however, something we can do to help us answer it.
Over the past decade, we've heard dozens of responses to: "How could you let this happen?" Some were pretty bad and others were so good you wish it was something you thought of yourself.
Unfortunately, there is no "boiler plate" response that works for everyone, every time.
The common denominator between the good responses is a conveyance of honesty and credibility. It wasn't so much what the spokesperson said as much as how he or she said it, and that they meant it.
It is the kind of question that needs a response of care and concern, as well as reassurance.
It's not a time for slick sound bites.
So what are the other questions we hope reporters never ask us?
For the past two years, we've been asking workshop participants to fill out information forms prior to the scheduled training. One of the questions we ask: What are the questions you feel would be the most difficult to answer in a crisis situation?
Although not particularly in order, here they are:
- Who is responsible?
- Why didn't you take precautions to prevent this from happening?
- What are you going to do about it?
- How dangerous is it?
- Who is to blame?
- Was anyone hurt or killed?
- Are you going to compensate the victims?
- When will the situation be under control?
- Can it happen again?
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