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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