How to answer ‘false frame’ questions

While there isn’t one, specific formula to use when answering tough questions, there are certain ways to make them less daunting. Here are examples of ways to respond.

I once worked with an executive from a manufacturing company that was introducing an innovative safety feature into one of its products.

The executive was excited as he was certain this new feature would provide a meaningful competitive advantage for his company.

Despite his excitement, he was also nervous. Touting the new feature would lead to questions from customers—and reporters—about whether the millions of products the company had already sold without the new safety device were less safe or even unsafe.

To help the executive develop an answer to that question, I asked him whether he viewed the older products as unsafe.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “Best in the marketplace. But the new ones are even safer.”

Based on his response, I immediately categorized the question of the product being unsafe as a “false frame” question, because it contained a logical-sounding but incorrect assumption. The question’ “frame” was wrong, meaning we’d have to create a new and more accurate one. RELATED: Free guide: 10 ways to improve your writing today. Download now.

To do that, I advised him to quickly rebut the false frame, and then immediately make a positive and confident case that looked something like this:

“I disagree with that premise. A car with six airbags is safe; a car with eight is that much safer. Our customers should know that the products of ours they already own are among the safest in the marketplace—and that when they decide to get a new model, it will include yet another great safety feature.”

As another example, I once worked with a venture capitalist who purchased underperforming businesses, often as part of a hostile takeover. Like many people, I viewed his work with suspicion, and asked him this during a practice interview:

“So you’re a predator who scoops up vulnerable companies and sells them for parts, no matter the human cost?”

He started his answer by denying he was a predator, which is rarely a good idea, since his response repeated a pejorative term aimed at himself. After discussing his response, we recognized the original question as a false frame and recast his response:

“No. I’m an entrepreneur. Like any good businessperson, my goal is to buy low and sell high. When a company is failing, I can buy it for a fraction of its value—and oftentimes, that allows me to save a company that otherwise would have gone out of business within weeks.”

What about you, PR Daily readers? How do you best handle answering “false frame” questions?


Brad Phillips is president of Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training. He is author of the Mr. Media Training Blog (where a version of this article originally appeared) and two books: “The Media Training Bible” and “101 Ways to Open a Speech.” A version of this story originally appeared on Mr. Media Training. (Photo Via)


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