Michael Tran—FilmMagic/Getty
Advice

Christiane Amanpour: How to Ask Hard Questions

Feb. 8, 2016

Christiane Amanpour is CNN’s chief international correspondent and the anchor of Amanpour

I learned how to ask hard questions through experience and by watching others like the great Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes, who was relentless in pursuit of the truth. Another great mentor was Oriana Fallaci, the fearless Italian reporter and interviewer. I honed my skills so I could get the truth out of people like Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi—but some of these skills can also be helpful in job negotiations, especially ones related to pay and opportunity.

BEFORE THE MEETING

Do your homework
You want to be so well prepared that you cannot be deflected by the answer that comes back at you—or the spin. Or sometimes, the lie that comes back at you. That you’re going to say, “But no, no, hang on. It says here…” You have to be almost prosecutorial.

In a job-related negotiation, you have to be aware of just who you are, what you are, what you know, what you bring to the table and what you deserve. Don’t be apologetic, and don’t be bashful about demanding your due. And always have options!

Mentally prepare yourself
Take deep breaths—I don’t mean Zen breaths, I mean deep, sharp, oxygenating breaths, breaths that wake you up and keep your mind alert and keep the blood flowing. You also have to prepare yourself to be patient and to not get angry. Keep in mind: It’s not personal; it is business. In interviews, I always like to think my business is to elicit the truth.

DURING THE MEETING

Don’t worry about currying favor
You don’t want to be part of the group! I always say it’s important to go into any interview remembering that it’s not a popularity contest. You’re not there to be liked, you’re there to elicit information and, if necessary, you’re there to press and press and press in order to address the issue.

Use silence to your advantage
When someone doesn’t respond immediately, wait instead of fulfilling your natural urge to say something. Silence is a tactic. Use it to your advantage, and the other side will likely fill it with valuable information.

Keep the conversation on track
Let’s say you ask one question and they deflect it. You ask it again, maybe in a slightly different way; they deflect it again. You ask again, maybe adding another little nugget of information. You just keep asking it as many times as you can in order to get a response that actually addresses the issue at hand.

Refusing to accept an answer that you know to be false or you can see to be evasive is also tough because you’re basically telling that person, “I’m sorry, I don’t believe you.” It’s been quite scary sometimes to hold to account military dictators, for instance, who come to the interview surrounded by their generals and all these people with brass bristling all over their clothes and very steely eyes, people who could break your neck if they wanted to. It’s also very scary going into their lair and doing this on their territory. But this is where research comes in; when some dictator says, “My people love me,” I can tell them chapter and verse of how and why that’s not true. And I’ve done that many times.

Christiane Amanpour is CNN’s chief international correspondent and the anchor of Amanpour.