I was watching a debate in the House of Lords the other day, and I was very struck (I hesitate to use the word 'impressed') by how easily a particular government representative managed to fend off a whole variety of questions without saying anything of any value whatsoever.
After a few of these answers, I was able to boil them down to a formula which could be used in virtually any context.
In essence, his answers consisted of the following parts, in the following order:
1. Agree that X is an issue that should concern all of us. This is a clever tactic because by agreeing with your interlocutors right away, you disarm them.
2. State that only last week you did something or met someone in connection with X. This shows that this is an issue that is uppermost in your mind.
3. State how long you've been addressing X. This indicates that you've been aware of the issue for quite a while. This and the answer to the previous question indicate that you're completely on the ball as far as X is concerned.
4. State that you have been working with other agencies to resolve the problem. This serves to tell or remind the person asking the question that this is not a simple issue, and that what other parties do will affect the success or otherwise of your own actions. If it proves necessary, this will also have prepared the ground for blaming someone else should the matter not be resolved.
5. Express confidence that the right approach is being taken. This is a good way of ending the answer because the unspoken message is: "If you disagree, why don't you suggest something instead of criticising from the sidelines?"
OK, let's see how this might sound in practice:
Headteacher: I've been looking at the examination results, and it seems that girls are not doing as well in ICT as boys. How are you addressing that?
ICT Co-ordinator: I agree that this is an issue that needs to be resolved. Only last week I was discussing gender bias with a colleague from the University of London. Since taking on this role I've been keeping records of how girls are doing in relation to boys, and looking at a variety of ways in which the issue could be addressed. I've also been discussing it with the Local Authority advisor/our School Improvement Professional/an independent ICT consultant (delete as appropriate). I feel confident that my approach is on the right lines.
Not bad, I think you'll agree. However, just in case you don't know me, I should just say that this has been written tongue-in-cheek!
This is an adaptation of an article first published on 2nd April 2009.
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