In journalism that term describes a reporting style that sees a reporter confront an interviewee with obscure facts or innuendos in a public forum. “Gotcha journalism”, as it is known, is designed to make the interviewee squirm.
These “gotcha” confrontations are not limited to the world of journalism. They can blind-side any leader.
But you can survive and even shine in a gotcha moment, if you pay attention to four key factors.
#1: The potential for a gotcha moment
Anytime your leadership takes you into a public, unscripted environment the opportunity for a gotcha moment exists.
#2: The dynamics of a gotcha moment
Gotcha moments are all about tone and timing. The content of a gotcha question can seem reasonable on the surface. What gives it away is a tone that has a subtly abrasive edge, and the public timing of the question.
#3: The purpose of a gotcha moment
A gotcha question is not designed to elicit information. It is designed to further an agenda contrary to your own by attempting to publicly undermine your position.
#4: The defusing of a gotcha moment
You can not only survive a gotcha moment, but you can actually shine through such an encounter by recognizing it for what it is, and by graciously but directly calling a “foul”.
Bill Hybels relates a classic example of this in his book Axiom.
Recently in a large public forum, a man asked a question that was so sarcastic and mean-spirited that our security team rose to the ready…I said, “In golf when a player hits a terrible tee shot, his friends may be gracious enough to give him a mulligan. A do-over shot with no penalty attached to it. Just pure grace. Now sir, your question was clearly a personal attack aimed at me with not a shred of evidence to back up what you’re saying. I’m willing to answer your question honestly, right here in front of everybody, but only if you’re willing to re-state it in a kinder way.”
That’s how to handle a gotcha moment.
Leaders know that it is usually a question not of “if”, but of “when” a gotcha moment will arise.
But if you can have the presence of mind to respond with clarity and grace you can not only survive the moment, your leadership can actually shine through.