Advanced Media Training Tip: Lean Into Accusations

I’ve trained thousands of media spokespersons over the past decade, and there’s one thing that unites almost all of them: when they’re accused of something, they become defensive.

Their defensive reactions may be subtle, indicated by a slight shift in body language, or more severe, conveyed through a frozen “deer-in-headlights” expression. Either way, the audience can spot the defensive reactions and interpret meaning from them, undermining the impressions the spokespersons had hoped to make.

It’s perfectly understandable to become defensive when challenged. It’s a natural tendency for most of us. But in many cases, there’s a better way to handle accusations.

Stop defending yourself against them. Start running toward them. Embrace them. Lean into them.


Defensive Man

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re a local politician who is confronted by an angry constituent at a town hall meeting.

Angry Question: “Why did you spend $52 million to rebuild this park? Our community has so many other needs!”

Your “Lean Into” Response: “Our community does have a lot of other needs—and that’s exactly why we spent what we did on this park. We spent only as much as necessary to build a park that was done the right way, right from the start. That way, we knew we wouldn’t have to waste taxpayer dollars a few years from now on repairs that shouldn’t be necessary. As a result of doing this project right, we will have more taxpayer dollars available for all of those other important needs you alluded to.”

For another example of leaning into a charge, watch this clip from a 2012 Republican debate. Rick Santorum accused Newt Gingrich of being too “grandiose” in his thinking (he had recently proposed a moon colony). But instead of ducking the charge, Gingrich went with it.

Obviously, you can’t lean into every accusation that’s ever made of you (this strategy would work badly if you were accused of a crime, for example). But deployed at the right times, this technique can help you eliminate defensiveness and communicate a sense of utter confidence to your audiences.

Enjoy this post? You’ll learn a lot more in my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, available in paperback, for the Kindle, and the iPad.