If you have someone inside the tent who’s able to take a look at what you’re up to and see the downside, to ask the hard questions that media and the public will ask, then you’ve got an opportunity to factor that likely feedback into your plans. You then have the opportunity to change the plan, if that is what is required, or to prepare a well-thought out and clear response to the question that presents your point of view clearly and cogently. That includes looking at the searching, negative questions you’d rather not have to face, let alone answer.
We call the collection of those responses a ‘rude Q&A’: it’s a document that summarises the worst things you can expect to have thrown at you, that asks the difficult or dangerous questions and that proposes a response to those questions. It means that your team is better prepared – they have had the chance to consider the factors involved and they all have access to a formal, unified response to the most challenging of questions.
A rude Q&A can make the difference between taking and managing the most probing query in your stride or standing around looking like a slightly surprised goldfish while you try and think up some off-the-cuff response to that bolt from the blue. It also avoids the awful situation where more than one spokesperson is in that situation and they both give completely different responses in their panic. Both responses may be perfectly valid, but it still ends up looking like the proverbial left and right hand disconnect.
Putting together a rude Q&A means being realistic about the other point of view, looking at the issue with fresh eyes and challenging it. It means having a downer on your good work, being cynical and snarky about your virtues and focusing on what’s bad about you. It means having the impertinence to ask the most inappropriate and searching questions of yourself. But it’s important that you do – before someone outside the tent does it.
This piece originally appeared as one of the chucklesomely named ‘A Moment with McNabb’ columns in Campaign Middle East magazine.