Why journalists observe behaviour during media interviews?

Posted on May 09, 2017
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Everyone likes to think their individual personality is unique, but science has proven we may not be so different from one another after all. Most psychologists agree there are four personality types, and experienced journalists can capitalize on the strengths and weaknesses of personality traits to gather information.

I want to be perfectly clear, good journalism is about truth seeking and storytelling not deception or psychological warfare. But journalists are also well-versed as observers of human nature and observing and understanding personalities was one of the tools in my toolkit for gathering facts and information.

In our Media Training, we identify four personality types:

  • Doers
  • Talkers
  • Thinkers
  • Guardians.

Depending where you fall on the continuum, we discuss how your personality characteristics, especially your trigger points, can sometimes get in the way of a successful media interview.

Doers:

People who display Doer characteristics are often described as demanding, forceful, egocentric, strong-willed, determined, aggressive, ambitious and pioneering. They need to be in control.

Doer personalities are often found in leadership roles, but they are not always the best leaders because they have poor listening skills and are impatient and sometimes insensitive to others. So, imagine what happens when a young reporter starts asking questions, pressing a Doer for facts or puts them in the spot where they feel they must defend themselves. The Doer gets unnerved, fights for control and conflict often occurs. You might say it’s like wrestling with a pig in the mud. The pig has fun and the Doer gets dirty.

Talkers:

Talker personalities are a journalist’s dream interviewee. Talkers are commonly described as enthusiastic, extroverted, persuasive, demonstrative and most importantly they love to talk. For a journalist, ask a question, sit back and keep them talking.

Thinkers:

Thinkers are commonly described as cautious, conscientious, systematic, accurate and like to do things well the first time. They are great for providing the details. Journalists can capitalize on the Thinkers’ perfectionist tendencies by asking complex open-ended questions that call for detail, facts and expertise. As long as the pace is slow and the atmosphere is comfortable, Thinkers are eager to dive into the details.

Guardians:

Guardian personalities like to keep the peace and their highest priority is safety and security. If a journalist needs a Guardian talk, either put on some pressure or make them feel safe and secure and ask them emotional questions that make them feel like they are giving advice and are good counselors.

One of my favorite stories from days as a journalist was when I interviewed the CEO of a company who was facing allegations of stock manipulation in advance of an acquisition by a much larger international company. It was clear from the onset of our interview; the CEO was a Talker. After almost an hour of platitudes and listening to his self-proclaimed success, he took me into his confidence and told me “off the record of course”, how I could make a lot of money. “You should short the stock in the company,” he said. “The proposed acquisition had fallen apart and a public announcement will be made in a couple of days.”

On the way to the elevator, I ask one follow-up question…”Is everything you told me today true?”

His answer. “Yes, of course,” he said.

I suspect the insider trading would have been discovered by the securities commission sooner or later, but that day standing in the elevator foyer, the CEO should have known when to stop talking.

By Robert Simpson, CEO of PR Associates, a national public relations firm based in Vancouver & Toronto.

To learn more about your personality type and pitfalls to avoid during media interviews, sign up for our Media Training Workshop in Vancouver on June 20, 21, 2017.

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