I’m not naturally hostile. Honest.

But having a shaven head creates certain reactions. As does having a working class accent. So, when you have both, people make certain assumptions. Sometimes I like to play up to them. After all, it gets me work.

hostile interviewer

But, accent and haircut or not, I have spent the past few years developing a skill that is becoming more and more desirable. What is more, I enjoy it. I’m hostile for cash. Although this is not the sort of service one finds on a badly-Photoshopped card in a phone box.  It is not work that I can talk about often, however. So it does sometimes seem like a dirty secret.

The skill in question is in hostile interviewing. I find that it is a must for any politician starting a career or campaign, or even developing a new idea. It is also becoming more and more relevant for campaigners and charity groups who want to put their views up for debate or use the media to spread their message. Previously, most people would have been given an easy ride to express their views and get a message across. But, in the age of Brexit and falling media sales, news is no longer like that.

Paxo-ing

As you may have noticed, even the most genteel of Radio 4 shows will seek out an opposing view when none is really required. Sky News or Newsnight can be a bear pit. Hostile interviewing is sometimes called a ‘Paxo-ing’, after the Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman and implies shouting at a politician until they cry or submit.

Nowadays, the same can be used to elicit responses that make for viral clips your friends can share on Twitter or Facebook to back up their own political views. So, you want to be prepared.

All over bar the shouting

Despite this reputation for being preparation for interrogation under fire, hostile interviewing is not simply about squeezing ideas until they hurt and raised voices. Yes, that can be useful. But real hostile interviewing can also interrogate the person behind the ideas.

A thorough hostile interview can ask the interviewee to think several moves ahead, defend the CEO’s private jet, talk about their husband’s affair and explain that Tweet from 2013. It is about looking at your client as a hostile interviewee. Someone you want to get at or needle. They should not know what is coming, when and where from. It helps if the interviewer is from outside the organisation or circle to which the interviewee belongs.

Kidnapping interviewee’s dogs

I tend not to kidnap an interviewee’s pet dog and show them pictures of it holed up in a cage in a lock up, but in many cases the impact of some of the questions should be similar. You need to put them off balance and even (metaphorically) dangle them over a cliff. Especially if they are surrounded by yes men or fans who think they are great. I have even done hostile interviews where the interviewee has not been told it is a mock interview, so those around them can see how they react.

I tend to record the interview as I would any interview I carry out as a journalist. I sometimes even write up the interview as a feature or a news piece, to give an idea of what that would look like for real. Headlines and all.

Sometimes campaign teams video these interviews, so that they can analyse body language as well. We all have tics and tells, and these can become heightened under pressure. But you don’t want to be biting your nails or scratching your nose if you intend to run as Parliamentary candidate or raise money from the public.

If you are interested in this service then simply contact me on iain@thisidea.co.uk