Can media training help your marriage?
Many of our trainees think so. They regularly quip that they should try at home the media training techniques we teach.
To be clear, many media training techniques will not
work well in your personal life. For instance, my wife wouldn’t react kindly if I told her that I’m not the appropriate spokesperson for her questions, but would be happy to refer her to someone else who could help. I suspect your spouse wouldn’t react positively to that either.
Still, there are at least five lessons from media training that can help improve your relationships. So, for the first (and possibly last) time, I’m going to nudge professionally trained counselors out of the way and delve into the realm of marriage therapy.
1. Pause before answering.
For interviews that aren’t live, we teach trainees to pause for several seconds before answering questions. Pauses help spokespersons avoid saying the first thing that pops into their minds, and they usually lead to sharper, more focused answers.
Pausing also helps slow the pace of heated interviews, allowing spokespersons to regain control of their message and maintain a calm but firm tone. Anyone who’s ever argued with a spouse knows the value of taking a breath and slowing the pace.
2. Listen for the underlying issue.
When reporters ask questions filled with accusatory language, good spokespersons know to listen for the underlying issue. For example, if a reporter asks why your company just experienced its third straight quarter of declining sales, the underlying question is probably, “Is your company in trouble?”
As Oprah Winfrey once said, fights about which spouse left the toilet seat up are rarely about the toilet seat itself. It’s usually about some underlying issue, probably one spouse feeling that they’re not being respected or listened to. Next time you argue with your loved one, try to listen for the subtext.
3. Don’t go off-message.
Ever notice what happens when you begin arguing? You suddenly introduce less-important points to the argument. Inevitably, your fight becomes about those secondary and tertiary points, instead of the main subject that should command your full attention.
Once you go down the rabbit hole of an “everything but the kitchen sink” argument, it’s tough to crawl your way back out. Good media guests know not to get sidetracked by secondary points. If you do, those less important points may become your “headline”—and the thing your spouse most remembers about the argument.
4. Watch your tone.
Think about the last time you saw a media guest react angrily to a reporter’s question. What did you think of the spokesperson? Most people think: “What a jerk!”
In my experience, it’s not much different in personal relationships. If Mrs. Media Training (who has a ton
of patience) complains to me about something I’ve done, I have two choices. One is to listen to her, acknowledge her concerns, and pledge to try harder. The other is to react defensively, which almost always leads to a more protracted disagreement than necessary.
5. Apologize the right way.
In the first few days of a corporate crisis, companies too often react by denying any wrongdoing. Then, after enduring days of terrible coverage, they quickly change strategies and issue a more remorseful statement. By that point, though, they’ve suffered a lot of unnecessary, self-inflicted wounds. If you make a mistake, say so quickly. It usually shortens the severity of the crisis and helps you to move on.
Now, let’s just hope I can remember my own advice the next time I screw up.
Brad Phillips is the president of Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training. He blogs at Mr. Media Training.