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Chapter 1. The Critical Dynamics of Q&A

Chapter 1. The Critical Dynamics of Q&A

To fully appreciate the importance of control in handling tough questions, we should first look at the consequences of loss of control. A vivid example of such a disastrous unraveling comes from an episode of the 1970s comedy television series, The Bob Newhart Show. The widely known series is still running in syndication. One particular episode has become a classic. In it, Newhart plays a psychologist named Robert Hartley, who amiably agrees to appear on a Chicago television program to be interviewed by Ruth Corley, the program's hostess. This is the interview:

Ruth Corley: Good morning, Dr. Hartley. Thank you for coming. I hope it's not too early for you.

Dr. Hartley: No, I had to get up to be on television.

Ruth Corley: Well, I'm glad you're relaxed. I'm a little nervous myself, I mean, I've never interviewed a psychologist.

Dr. Hartley: Don't worry about it; we're ordinary men you know, one leg at a time.

Ruth Corley: Well, if I start to ramble a little or if I get into an area I'm not too conversant with, you'll help me out, won't you?

Dr. Hartley: Don't worry about it. If you get into trouble, just turn it over to me and I'll wing it.

Augie (Voice Over): 10 seconds, Ruth!

Ruth Corley: Thanks, Augie.

Dr. Hartley: You'll be fine.

Ruth Corley: Here goes.

Augie (VO): 3, 2, you're on.

Ruth Corley: Good morning. It's 7 o'clock, and I am Ruth Corley. My first guest is psychologist, Dr. Robert Hartley. It's been said that today's psychologist is nothing more than a con man; a snake oil salesman, flim-flamming innocent people, peddling cures for everything from nail bites to a lousy love life, and I agree. We will ask Dr. Hartley to defend himself after this message.

Dr. Hartley: Was that on the air?

Ruth Corley: Oh, that's just what we call a grabber. You know, it keeps the audience from tuning out.

Augie (VO): Ten seconds, Ruth.

Ruth Corley: Thanks, Augie.

Dr. Hartley: We won't be doing anymore grabbing will we?

Ruth Corley: No, no. From now on we'll just talk.

Augie (VO): 3, 2, you're on.

Ruth Corley: Dr. Hartley, according to a recently published survey, the average fee for a private session with a psychologist is 40 dollars.

Dr. Hartley: That's about right.

Ruth Corley: Right? I don't think it's right! What other practitioner gets 40 dollars an hour?

Dr. Hartley: My plumber.

Ruth Corley: Plumbers guarantee their work, do you?

Dr. Hartley: See, I don't understand why all of the sudden…

Ruth Corley: I asked you if you guaranteed your work!

Dr. Hartley: Well, I can't guarantee each and every person that walks through the door is going to be cured.

Ruth Corley: You mean you ask 40 dollars an hour and you guarantee nothing?

Dr. Hartley: I validate.

Ruth Corley: Is that your answer?

Dr Hartley: Could…can I have a word with you?

Ruth Corley: Chicago is waiting for your answer!

Dr. Hartley: Well, Chicago…everyone that comes in doesn't pay 40 dollars an hour.

Ruth Corley: Do you ever cure anybody?

Dr. Hartley: Well, I wouldn't say cure.

Ruth Corley: So your answer is “No.”

Dr. Hartley: No, no my answer is not “No.” I get results. Many of my patients solve their problems and go on to become successful.

Ruth Corley: Successful at what?

Dr. Hartley: Professional athletes, clergyman, some go on to head large corporations. One of my patients is an elected official.

Ruth Corley: A WHAT?

Dr. Hartley: Nothing, nothing.

Ruth Corley: Did you say an elected official?

Dr Hartley: I might have, I forget.

Ruth Corley: Who is it?

Dr. Hartley: Well, I can't divulge his identity.

Ruth Corley: Why? There is a deranged man out there in a position of power!

Dr. Hartley: He isn't deranged… Anymore.

Ruth Corley: But he was when he came to see you, and you said yourself that you do not give guarantees.

Dr. Hartley: Uh…

Ruth Corley: After this message we will meet our choice for woman of the year, Sister Mary Catherine.

Augie (VO): Okay, we're into commercial.

Dr. Hartley: Thanks, Augie.

Ruth Corley: Thank you, Dr Hartley. You were terrific. I mean, I wish we had more time.

Dr. Hartley: We had plenty.

Ruth Corley: Well, I really enjoyed it.

Dr. Hartley: You would have enjoyed Pearl Harbor.

Ruth Corley: Good morning, Sister. It's wonderful of you to come at this hour.

Dr. Hartley: If I were you I wouldn't get into religion, she will chew your legs off. [1.1]

Newhart accompanied his uncertain verbal responses to the interviewer's attacks with an array of equally edgy physical behavior: He squirmed in his seat, he stammered, he twitched, his eyes darted up and down and around and around frantically, and he crossed his arms and legs protectively. But even without these visual images, his words alone depict a man desperately trying to cover his tracks. Despite all the humor, Bob Newhart came across as defensive.

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