The bridge from nowhere

If you’ve been through a communications coaching or media training session, it’s likely you’ve heard the importance of this formula when asked a difficult question:

Answer  →  Bridge  →  Message

During coaching sessions I’ve conducted, I’ll often get asked “Is this what politicians do?”  My stock answer:  “Some adopt this formula.  Many do not answer the questions, however.  They simply bridge to their messages regardless of the questions.  And you shouldn’t do that.”

This week, Rep. Anthony Weiner provides a vivid example of why “bridging from nowhere” is not recommended:

The public is tiresome of these shenanigans.  It’s spin.  I suspect most news outlets will only take a representative seven-second clip from this.  Kudos for ABC News for showing the entire interview.  In doing so, the public can see how Weiner tries several times to completely avoid the questions, often using the same (weak) bridges. 

The details behind this situation are still unclear, but the controversy seems to center on a lewd photo that he may or may not have sent from his Twitter account to a 21-year-old college student.  Perhaps he’s been framed in this and he can’t say anything because of an investigation.  Perhaps his legal counsel urged him to avoid answering any questions.  Perhaps he just simply hasn’t gotten to the bottom of what’s really happened.   It doesn’t matter.  He should have been better prepared to answer the questions first, then get to his agenda.

Answering the question is important.  In my opinion, you must satisfy the requirement of the other person’s (reporter’s, blogger’s, community member’s, employee’s) question.  Since many questions from media or “vested audiences” can be one-sided questions, it’s also important to use bridges — transitional phrases, such as “however, what I’m here to talk about today is X” — to get back to your agenda.  This is how balance is best achieved in any two-way communication.

Some politicians have become so eloquent and confident with the bridging technique that they feel they can bridge from nowhere.  Sadly, most of the time, they’re successful in doing so.  However, if the media begins showing more full clips like this one, it’s possible (not probable) that our politicians on both sides of the aisle will have to begin actually addressing the public’s main concerns.

What are your thoughts?  Share them below.

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