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        Helping you inform and stimulate your audiences to action    Al.Guyant@gmail.com  608-825-8844         Irina Ioffe   Irina.Ioffe@icloud.com

Thinking on Your Feet



      Mastering Tough Questions and Hostile Comments


Whether it is a news event or hostile public hearing or difficult internal meeting, the knowledge and skills gained in this class will increase your ability to succeed at mastering the types of tough questions and hostile comments everyone fears from time to time.


  • By understanding the anatomy of tough questions, you will gain power over them.

  • By learning response techniques and model answers, you will become adept at gaining control of tough questions and hostile comments and directing attention to where you want it to be.


This is an applied class where participants will practice handling tough questions and hostile comments (sometimes on camera if you wish) and then critique it all afterward for additional improvement.


Each participant may bring to the seminar the specific tough questions or hostile comments he or she would like to master.



The course is designed for anyone who wants to master tough, trick and hostile questions and hostile comments from any source.


This class is partly based the nationally recognized book Manager's Tough Questions Answer Book and selected features of Beat The Press. Both books feature time-tested methods for handling tough, trick and hostile questions from a variety of sources, including the news media, investors and the general public. 

Learners will also examine how other people have responded effectively to tough questions, such as those we have included in our growing archive of great responses (see below)

Archive of Great Responses to Tough Questions 

Reacting to criticism

Didn't you screw up (No)

Didn't you screw up? (Yes)

Didn't they screw up?

Aren't you hard to work with?

Are you sorry?

Don't you think they are guilty?

Aren't you guilty? (No)

Aren't you guilty? (Yes)

Aren't you to blame?

Who is to blame?

The responses quoted in our archive illustrate how you can respond with a few words to tough questions and hostile comments but still say a lot.

To save space, no analysis is given here. For analysis and techniques, see sample Beat The Press and Manager's Tough Questions Answer Book The books haves hundreds of tips on handling difficult questions.

Have you seen any really great or terrible responses you would like to recommend for our collection? Please email to al.guyant@sbcglobal.net

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Reacting to Criticism

"My assumption is that if he could rebut the facts, he wouldn’t have to resort to personal attacks on me." (Former U.S. Attorney General).

"I’m not surprised, after 25 years in business, that you would be able to find five people who are willing to say something bad about me on the record. Whether you’re a business executive or newspaper editor, you’re bound to make a few enemies if you’re doing your job." (Congressional candidate)

"You don’t interrupt your opponent when he’s making a fool of himself." (Former Republican National Chairman)

"It’s the last gasp of a very hard and desperate person." (State school superintendent)

"You can say anything in a legal document or in the courtroom, but that doesn’t make it true." Political aide

"I try to be as fair as I possibly can. Sometimes decisions have to be made, and I’m the one selected to make them. You can’t please everybody." (State legislative leader)

"It’s easy to criticize and judge when you lack an understanding of the environment in which decisions are made." (Police commissioner)

"We’ve raised legitimate questions and we deserve better answers, no insults." (Unknown)

"It’s a very superficial response to a very complex problem. It exists the way a storefront in a western move exists, as a mere facade." (leading female author)

"I am who I am. I do what I can do. And I don’t start comparing myself to anyone else." (Actor)

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Didn’t you screw up? (Yes)

"It’s through experience that we’re learning what things we can do better." (National religious leader)

"At the time, I certainly though I acted appropriate. Obviously, with 20-20 hindsight, I wish I had done things differently." (Police officer accused of using excessive force)

"I’m embarrassed by this. We’re definitely at fault here. We’re tightening up our procedures as a result of the investigation." (Bus company spokesman)

"I am deeply sorry. My initial concern was to protect others. In hindsight, I realize there were other alternatives that should have been and could have been explored to protect the integrity of the process." (Accused teacher)

"Of course, I made mistakes – but who doesn’t? I erred by trusting too much in people who later proved not to be worthy of this trust." (Brazilian President)

"It was a mistake and it is not defensible." (Congressman)

"In hindsight, I can understand how this appears. It looks as if I was stupid, but I certainly did not feel that way at the time. I’ve torn myself apart about this in the last week. But I honestly believe this would not have made any difference." (College president)

"Consistently, our effort has been to do the right thing, and some are saying there are real loopholes in our policy, and we’ve got to look at that. I’m willing to do what I have to do so this never happens again."

"My choice of the word ‘gimmick to describe the changes in the tax withholding tables was less than artful." (Congressman)

"I really have literally no excuse…and no justification for using that choice of words…Clearly, I had my mouth in gear before my brain was engaged." (University regent)

"The fine, if there is a fine, is of less importance to us than the actual incident being brought to our attention, because it allows us to take the appropriate action to insure this doesn’t happen again." (Cruise line spokesman)

"Yes, of course, it is embarrassing. We (are) responsible for issuing that credential on a improper basis. There is no question about it." (Public education agency head)

"We probably made 400 decisions during the storm and some of them may have been wrong, but, by and large, we did a tremendous job." (Utility general manager)

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Didn’t you screw up? (No)

"We deeply regret the tragedy that occurred. Today’s decision was not an easy one to make. While the exact cause and reason for the accident remains unresolved, we believe it is in the best interest of everyone involved – our employees, the families of miners who died, and our company – to resolve the charges and look to the future." (Mining company president)

"We did the right thing and acted appropriately once the problem was discovered. Do we have a confidence problem? Of course. But I wouldn’t have done anything differently. We acted thoroughly and openly and always with the public’s interest in mind." (City health commissioner)

"To give this major diplomatic importance would be wrong. It was unintentional and one also has to see it in proportion. We 30,000 soldiers on duty daily, occasionally something goes wrong." (Swiss Defense Ministry spokesman)

"While we regret any mistake and inconveniences to customers that occurred, they were not intentional. We are confident that the overwhelming majority of the 27 million vehicles we serviced…were done properly and safety." (Vice president of car manufacturer)

"While it’s unfortunate charges would be filed against any of our students, we do have 71,000 students and have hundreds upon hundreds of athletes. There’s no reason to think that our population of people would not be prone to some of the same things you find in society at large." (University spokesman).

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Didn’t THEY screw up?

"What happened was wrong, and it has come to approach the spector of a Shakespearean tragedy. They made a big mistake, but they are not evil." (School superintendent)

"I have a personal rule not to be critical of my colleagues." (Politician)

"The mistakes he made the last couple of years overshadowed the contributions he made during the previous 25 years," (Governor’s staff)

"I don’t think there’s much question that our court had a national reputation for excellence in the past that it doesn’t have now." (Judge)

"Any implications of staff misconduct in that escape are very unfair. Mistake were made, but not intentional mistakes. Staffs in prisons are human being, too." (Prison warden)

"He grew up in that massive organization and I don’t that he was able to comprehend the enormous changes that were necessary." (CEO of competitor)

"Did he react inappropriately? Absolutely. But was the reaction understandable? I think it was." (Judge)

"I’m working very hard in New York to fail the way Bill Clinton has in his state. That time I looked he had been elected six times." (Then Gov. Cumo reacting to criticism of the abilities of presidential candidate Bill Clinton)

"The officers admit they should have done more, and they admit the made a mistake. They are deeply sorry, and I’m sure they would expect to serve a just penalty. They were not harboring any intent to commit a crime. They were, in fact, civil servants doing what they believed would best serve the community and the participants." (Police commissioners)

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Are You Sorry?

"Even after enduring six months of false rumors and innuendo, there is still no excuse for myself or anyone to consume alcohol and operate a motor vehicle." (Prosecutor arrested for drunk driving)

"I made a mistake and this the most embarrassing moment of my life." (Head coach)

"I can’t undo what has been done in the past. I apologize. I regret any harm that has been done to anybody." (Church administrator)

"In 1988, I assaulted two Vietnamese men over a case of beer. I used racist language during these encounters and people were seriously hurt by what I did. I am truly sorry. I was teenager and intoxicated when I did these things. But that’s no excuse." (Entertainer)

"We made the mistake of retaliating, but there were two very provoking situations. But have to deal with it. We do not condone al what (he) did. That’s not what this league’s about, and he feels very bad about it today." (Professional sports coach).

"My remarks were inappropriate. I was attempting to differentiate our constituencies, and obviously didn’t articulate very well." (Legislative leader)

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Aren’t YOU Guilty? (yes)

"We don’t dispute that. We’ve had to pay fines. But today we service more than 1,300 municipalities without a hint of any problem. Even a one-dollar fine is taken seriously. But it’s difficult to police every individual." (National supplies company)

"We regret the fact abuses were committed, but in no country and in no government can abuses be totally evaded. It is sufficient we have learned from our past mistakes." (African National Congress Leader)

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Aren’t You Guilty? (No)

"I deny all charges. I have already been tried and convicted in the media and must now prove my innocence. I am living a teacher’s worst nightmare, being falsely accused by a student." (Teacher)

"We strenuously deny the charges, and we’re going to put all the resources at our disposal into fighting this case." (Attorney)

"We don’t think there’s anything wrong with the product. The product saves lives, but sometimes you have to settle because a jury verdict can be very high." (Attorney for manufacturer)

"We feel the nation that there is any sort of price signaling in this industry is absurd. If there were, one would assume the industry would be earning money. Over the past two years this industry has lost $7 billion. (Airline executive several years ago).


"There is nothing new in the story that hasn’t been looked at previously. All the angles and aspects have been thoroughly investigated by the appropriate bodies." (White House spokesman)

"The fact is that our company has developed a reputation of being so free of ties of organized crime that states such as New York and New Jersey has asked us to do business in areas where there were hints of less-than-honest and real competition." (Waste management company executive)

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Don't you think THEY are guilty?

"That’s too serious a charge to speculate on." (State investigator)

"He has been charged and there is a trial. He is innocent until proven guilty. I think the university has to be careful about people’s rights." (University administrator)

"There’s been on on-going investigation, and the teacher is not present int eh classroom or the building." (school district’s attorney)

"It looked funny. But there was nothing we could put our hands on that was clearly improper. The appearance might no have been what we liked, but it was all within the parameters of what’s permissible." (City council members)

"The conspiracy would have had to have been so vast..it could not have been successfully orchestrated. No fair-minded person could conclude that (she) was framed." (Circuit judge)

"There is no clear-cut demon and angle in this case." (Attorney)

"The’ve acknowledged their mistake all along. They know they’ve made an error in judgment." (Attorney)

"Eyewitnesses to the events in question do not corroborate the charge that staff members intentionally inflicted physical harm upon the complainant." (Prosecutor)

"By and large, it’s been an effective and useful program. Certainly there have been errors, but I don’t think it was malicious." (school board president)

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Aren’t YOU Hard to Work With?

"If at times our actions seem to have made life difficult for others, it is only because history has made life difficult for us all." (John F. Kennedy)

"Sometimes you have to lean hard on the system and the people in it to get it work the way you want it work, and in a timely fashion. It may be that some saw that as pressure. I saw it as getting the job done." (Former Secretary of Defense)

"Our primary objective is regulation. I have no problem being cooperative if it does not conflict with our primary objective." (Government regulator)


"Until I’ve had a chance to talk with him, I simply can’t respond intelligently. It’s hard for me to believe he made those comments, and I would have to talk with him first to understand what he was trying to get across." (Government investigator)

"We may have different approaches, different philosophies and different political viewpoints, but I believe we still have to work together." (Mayor)

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Didn’t They Screw Up?

"It’s easy to sit back and Monday morning-quarterback and say, ‘Gee, why did they do what they did?’ I think that’s premature judgment." (Senator)

"I have a personal rule not to be critical of my colleagues." (Politician)

"The mistakes he made the last couple of years overshadowed the contributions he made during the previous 25 years." (Governor’s Staff Chief)

"I don’t think there’s much question that our court had a national reputation for excellence in the past that it doesn’t have now." (Judge)

"Any implications of staff misconduct in that escape are very unfair. Mistakes were made, but not intentional mistakes. Staffs in prisons are human beings too." (Prison Warden)

"I think there are a certain few members of that coalition who have continued to pursue other agendas that aren’t in concert with the (group) as a whole." (Town Board President)

"Oftentimes those with links to an old administration literally are enslaved by those links. There was no real way he could have done succeeded without in a sense denouncing and abrogating what he stood for." (Magazine Editor)

"He grew up in that massive organization and I don’t think that…he was able to comprehend the enormous changes the were necessary." (247)

"Not everyone is receptive to criticism, and people sometimes say things they shouldn’t say." (Unknown)

"What happened was wrong, and it has come to approach the specter of a Shakespearean tragedy. They made a big mistake, but they are not evil." (School Superintendent)

"The officers admit they should have done more, and they admit they made a mistake. They are deeply sorry, and I’m sure they would expect to serve a just penalty. They were not harboring any intent to commit a crime. They were, in fact, civil servants doing what they believed would best serve the community and the participants." (Police Commissioner)

"Did he react inappropriately? Absolutely. But was the reaction understandable? I think it was." (Judge)

"I’m Working very hard in New York to fail the way Bill Clinton has in his state. The last time I looked he had been elected six times." (NY Gov. Cumo about then candiate Clinton)

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Aren’t YOU to Blame? If no or maybe...)

"I think when a tragedy of this magnitude occurs it’s natural for parents to look for answers. Even when something happens on the school grounds, the school is clearly not the only force in that student’s life." (School principal)

"We have not found any evidence linking these pins to either accident. This is just a precaution at this point. We just think this a prudent thing to do." (Aircraft company executive)

"We understand how so many people feel so violated by this terrible storm, and we, too, feel that way. We understand the temptation to lash out and lay blame, but we also understand that winds estimated by some to approach 200 mph brough destruction not only to home but to virtually everything in its path." (Home building in hurricane area)

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Who's to blame?

"Blaming one side doesn’t advance matters; it just leads to mistakes" (German Finance Minister)

"Our intent is not to assign blame. Our intent is to study what happened and decide what to do about it." (Police Commission President)

"I never engage in character assassination and I don’t intend to begin. But I also am unwilling not to stand up for what I believe to be right. As far as I’m concerned, it’s over and we are going to move forward." (School Superintendent)

"If you want to use a chess game analogy, the knights and the bishops got together and the women end up being pawns on this issue." (Abortion Rights Leader)






























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