Blog post -
Two press conferences - two different ways of steering clear of questions
Two press conferences over the past three weeks provide an interesting clue as to how to respond when you are asked questions you can't possibly be expected to answer.
Many interview guests struggle with this. On the one hand, they have an opinion that they are bursting to share. On the other hand, sharing it will only invite more questions, or worse.
These two press conference clips show how nuanced the response needs to be in order to not open a can of worms.
First, Mikhail Fridman – a Russian Oligarch behind Alfa Bank and investment firm LetterOne – was asked to condemn Putin's war against the Ukraine.
The BBC report says:
Mr Fridman said the conflict in Ukraine should end as soon as possible, but avoided questions about outright condemnation of President Vladimir Putin's actions.
"Please, don't push me to comment," he said, adding it would be not just "my personal risk, but also a risk for my colleagues and staff".
He said his companies had tens of thousands of staff in Russia, Ukraine and the UK. "It's a very sensitive issue. We have a dozens of partners and I do not have a right to put all of them at risk."
His comment might have been an attempt at a non-response, but it spoke volumes. It makes plain what happens if you speak out against Putin. It isn't just a condemnation of Putin's war, it's an indictment of Putin's Russia.
But from the perspective of interview technique – which is, after all, the focus of this blog – if Fridman was attempting to dog-whistle about oppression and the risk of reprisals, it failed. His message (irrespective of what you think of it) could be clearly heard by all.
Compare this to Chelsea football coach Thomas Tuchel, who was pressed on whether outgoing owner Roman Abramovich should use his influence to try to persuade Putin to call off the invasion.
Both Fridman and Tuchel said they didn't want to respond to the questions they were asked. Neither wanted to be drawn on the issues. But it was pretty clear what Fridman thinks of Putin, while Tuchel kept us guessing as to whether he thinks Abramovich should throw his weight around.
You or your spokesperson might not have faced such questions in the past, but at a time when virtually all corporate executives are asked to take a stand on Putin's war against the Ukraine, it won't be long before they do.
Ask me if you'd like to discuss further.