Sensitivity Training is Key For Effective Interviewing Skills

"Jungle Bird" (Photo by Ron Chenoy, US Presswire)

Spurred by this week’s post over on PR Daily about when should a PR pro interrupt an interview, I was motivated to write something about last Sunday’s interesting and rather amusing interruption by “Jungle Bird” during the Bob Costas interview with U.S. Open Champ Webb Simpson. In case you live in a cozy apartment at the bottom of the Marianas Trench and missed this video clip, it is rather amusing.

Here is a link:

After the man interrupts the interview, Simpson comments to Costas, “Yeah, enjoy that jail cell buddy.” A rather innocuous comment to most but a few of my friends and I were discussing it recently over lunch and most of us agreed that instead of being a smart wisecrack by Simpson, it came off as rather smug and insensitive.

You may be thinking, “Big deal, who cares what Simpson said, he’s the U.S. Open Champion and in his moment of glory some idiot had the nerve to interrupt his nationally broadcast interview to celebrate that victory. He had a right to make that comment.” I don’t disparage that opinion but in my opinion and if I were Simpson, I would have said nothing at all, let the smoke clear and went right back to the interview.

Why? Several reasons:

  • What if this person suffers from a mental illness? Doesn’t it seem rather insensitive to assume that the best thing for them is a jail cell when in fact they might need something much more clinical than prison, especially if they have dementia, schizophrenia, or something worse?
  • Comments like that emulate a condescending attitude. Take a look across the professional sporting world landscape and identify those who are the true positive role models. Do they come across as haughty to you? Chances are, the purest of athlete role models are humble, culturally sensitive, and compassionate. I don’t think this comment from Simpson invoked any of these feelings in me.
  • As we are all aware in PR, sometimes one slip up can permanently damage a reputation. Honestly, I don’t think this comment from Simpson will have any long term effect on his name but is it indicative of how we handles unexpected adversity? In the off chance that something like this may happen again down the road, will he say something worse, perhaps more damaging and more insensitive that offends more than a small group of nitpicky communication pros like me?

One of our jobs as media trainers is to remind those who are in the spotlight that when confronted with a similar incident as Simpson faced, the most prudent advice is to say nothing. The best advice you can offer is to smile or nod and go back to your business. You never know who you may offend with an offhand comment or what action group is tuning in that can use those words against you or how a sponsor or the public may misinterpret a remark and blow it out of proportion. You. Never. Know.

Am I nuts for using Webb Simpson as an example on this topic? Have I completely made a mountain out of a molehill? I’d love to hear your comments below.

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  • Anonymous

    “Am I nuts for using Webb Simpson as an example on this topic?”

    Yes, you are.

    “Have I completely made a mountain out of a molehill?”

    Yes. Yes, you have.

    “Big deal, who cares what Simpson said, he’s the U.S. Open Champion and in his moment of glory some idiot had the nerve to interrupt his nationally broadcast interview to celebrate that victory. He had a right to make that comment.”

    Yes, that’s exactly what I’m thinking.

    Let’s be honest here: there was no way the interview was going to continue as planned. Costas was going to comment on it, he was going to prompt Simpson for a reaction and probably keep doing so until he got one, and the distraction would have continued for longer than was needed. He proactively addressed it and moved on, and quite frankly I’m struggling to see how it could be construed as offensive, harsh or indicative of a burgeoning trend in his speaking style. It was a moment of levity in an otherwise stuffy interview, it went viral instantly, and based on my Twitter timeline, John, I’d say that you’re probably one of three people in the country who had an issue with it.

    I know PR pros have a tendency to read too much into things, but this is ridiculous.

    • Thanks for the comment. I see that you made the assumption that Costas “was going to prompt Simpson for a reaction and probably keep doing so until he got one.” I’m not sure how the comment by Costas would necessitate Simpson making the comment or justify him saying anything at all about “enjoying the jail cell” or making the assumption that if Simpson said nothing Costas would have continued focusing on it until Simpson said something about it but perhaps you have some inside insight into Costas’ interviewing style that I am not privy to. And the interview was “stuffy?” I don’t quite understand how asking the winner of a major sports event’s feedback on what type of play got him to the championship is “stuffy” but I digress on that point too. Also, it’s an interesting connection that your Twitter timeline encompasses the general consensus of the entire world including those that don’t participate in social media. Does your Twitter timeline include all TV viewers who don’t have Twitter accounts or are you just assuming that this was their reaction too? Has Twitter suddenly become the de facto survey result of all sports fans opinions?

      I also think you are missing my point of the post which is that in the face of adversity during an interview such as what happened here, the best thing is to say nothing. Why even justify that this even happened by giving this intruder the decency of a comment? Does major league baseball show streakers on camera when they race across the field and interrupt a game? No, they don’t give the person the decency of being seen on television for their stupidity. Was he shocked? Yes. Was he angry? Probably? My point is that you need to train people to keep their composure and not even justify someone’s ridiculous actions by making a comment like that.

      I admitted in the article that this incident will probably not have any effect on Simpson’s character but what if it had been someone carrying a concealed weapon? Is the proper reaction to someone doing this to agitate them even more by making a what I interpret as an unnecessary comment? Do you understand that I said in the post that I didn’t so much have an issue with what he said but that he said anything at all?

      With all due respect to you, I honestly think you are missing the point of the post.

  • This is a truly unique situation. It’s a situation where you have to acknowledge what’s happened, but shouldn’t say anything because of all the X-Factors you laid out here, John. I think the best response would have been a chuckle, shake of the head, and move on. Costas isn’t one to shift focus from where it is supposed to be. In fact, I think Costas was trying to set Simpson up to NOT say anything.

    All of that said, I think you’ve got the right idea. Better not to say anything in that situation than to open your mouth and give your foot the opportunity to enter.

    • Thanks for the comment Matt. It is definitely unique situation that (in my opinion) sheds light on a more macro approach to just keep quiet and not say anything that could come back and bite you. Appreciate the feedback.

  • gail sideman

    I do think you’re reading more into this than is necessary, John. Can the incident be a teaching moment? Sure. Is it big enough to take more than three minutes of class time? No. I laughed at Costas’ and Simpson’s responses. This was a situation that happened on live television. In that case, you simply deal with it. A quick mention, even a chuckle, and move on, as the guys did. Simpson wasn’t obnoxious about it. He likely added levity to a situation that made for lots of initial four-letter blasts in the TV truck.

    • Thanks for the feedback Gail. I admit that I’m making more of the Webb comment situation than it really is but like most things in life, I search and try to identify teachable moments and thought this one in particular had a more overarching lesson about communication beyond a knee jerk reaction.

      What may have made sense to add in the post are situations where someone being interviewed said something in reaction to an unexpected interruption that was completely inappropriate and possibly reputation damaging. Lesson learned.

      I agree that he wasn’t obnoxious about his comment but you can’t disagree that what he said sounded a bit condescending.