The first thing we tell our clients, from politicians to pop stars, is: ‘Be straightforward, tell the truth – and admit your mistakes’. In general no-one has too much of a problem with the first two principles. However, although pop stars seem to have turned it into an art form, admitting their mistakes is anathema to politicians (unless the mistakes were made by someone else!) and most people have some difficulty ‘fessing up’ that they were wrong. That’s a pity, because concession is a powerful weapon in the media. The trouble with denial is that it locks you into a ‘Did, Didn’t’ argument that can waste an entire interview. Criticism often has an element of truth in it. Making a concession will win you brownie points with your interviewer and your audience. It’s refreshing, it’s appealing, and it marks you as an honest person. Let’s be clear that we’re not proposing that you go into the full mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, beat your breast and then fall on your sword. That’s just nauseating. What we’re suggesting is that, unless there are sound legal reasons why you shouldn’t admit to something, a partial concession will work in your favour.
We could have handled that better, but…’ ‘I think we were a bit slow off the mark there, but…’ ‘We weren’t listening as carefully as we should have been, but…’ These are the type of small concessions that, as long as you are offering a remedy, will give you an opportunity to move away from the criticism. BUT is a wonderful word in interviews. It allows you to turn the conversation round and onto the positive points you want to make: ‘We could have handled that better, but let me tell you what we’ve done to make sure it can’t happen again.’ ‘I think we were a bit slow off the mark there, but our IT people have come up with a brilliant new programme…’ ‘We weren’t listening as carefully as we should have been, but now our staff are dealing with these problems much faster and more empathetically.’ This almost forces the interviewer to ask you more about it – which is exactly what you want: to focus on the solution, not the problem. So take a deep breath and, if you got something wrong, admit it. It might do you more good than you imagine.