I have a confession: doing interviews makes me nervous.
I’ve done more of them than I can count, speaking with everyone from frontline nurses to industry rock stars like Karen DeSalvo or Ed Marx, and yet still, each time I pick up the phone, I feel that adrenaline rush coming on.
Normally it’s a good thing, as that type of reaction means I’m forcing myself out of my comfort zone. But on one particularly day, many years ago, it was not a good thing — not at all.
I had landed an interview with a well-known health IT executive, and so naturally I was excited, and a bit more nervous than usual, despite the fact that I had thoroughly researched both him and the organization. I figured the jitters would dissipate — as they almost always do — after we’d had a chance to exchange pleasantries.
But this time, something felt off. Although we were a few questions in, the conversation wasn’t flowing as I hoped it would. And this is where my nerves got the better of me. For some reason, rather than continuing to dip my toes into the water with a few more straightforward questions, I dove right in by asking about the organization’s failed EHR implementation.
I tried my best to backtrack, but the little rapport we had established had taken a big hit. Fortunately, I was eventually able to steer the discussion to safer topics, and we ended up having a pretty good chat. But despite my efforts, he never really opened up. And who could blame him? He was too busy looking out for grenades.
To this day, I don’t know what came over me. Maybe I was scared I wouldn’t cover all my questions in a short time. Maybe I figured he was a ‘get to the point’ kind of talker. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what the rationale was. What I do know was that my inability to read the situation nearly destroyed the entire interview.
I learned that if you’re going to bring up a topic as thorny as a failed implementation, it has to be done very carefully, and with an awareness that at any moment, you might have to retreat.
I thought of my “pin drop” moment when I read about the feud between Megyn Kelly and Jane Fonda.
Yes, you’re reading that correctly. A TV reporter who, let’s face it, has had a rough time in the past few months, is embroiled in a feud with an 80-year-old actress. To set the stage a bit, it started a month ago when Fonda and Robert Redford appeared on Megan Kelly Today to promote the film, ‘Our Souls at Night.’ After making a remark about Redford being a “heart throb,” Kelly paid a compliment to Fonda, saying, “You’ve been an example to everyone in how to age beautifully and with strength and unapologetically.” Fonda responded by thanking Kelly, who then chose to take it a little further.
Here’s what transpired next, according to the Washington Post.
Kelly said, “You admit you’ve had work done, which I think is to your credit. But you look amazing. . . . I read that you said you’re not proud to say you’ve had work done. Why not?”
Fonda’s face tightened, and her lips pursed. It was clear to anyone with a rudimentary understanding of human emotion that she was not happy.
“We really want to talk about that now?” she said.
A chuckling Kelly pressed on, undeterred.
“Well, one of the things people think when they look at you is how amazing you look,” Kelly responded.
“Well, thanks,” Fonda said, her voice filled with barely suppressed animosity. “Good attitude, good posture. I take care of myself. But let me tell you why I love this movie that we did, ‘Our Souls at Night,’ rather than plastic surgery.”
Unfortunately, it didn’t end there. When asked later about the segment, Fonda chided Kelly’s line of questioning, noting that it “seemed like the wrong time and place” to ask it.
As a reporter, I have to agree. While I believe that as a public figure, you have to expect questions that go beyond the plot of your latest movie, I also believe that Kelly didn’t properly set the stage for that type of inquiry. If, for example, it had been a segment examining Hollywood’s unrealistic standards when it comes to beauty and aging among women, she would’ve been completely justified asking about plastic surgery (something that Fonda has talked about in the past).
In that case, Fonda may have felt prepared to field such a difficult question. But she wasn’t, and in my opinion, that’s on the reporter. One of the most difficult parts of our job is to be able to read a situation and properly gauge whether we should press on, or step back. As great is it can be to get the soundbite or quote that has people talking, what’s more important is doing it in a way that upholds our integrity.
Because if you fail to do that, no one will want to talk to you. And that makes me more nervous than anything.