What do an email I got today and Anderson Cooper have in common?
Here’s what happened ...
I’m interviewing art dealers about the current challenges many of them are facing in lieu of rising rents and online galleries. Anyway, I got an email from one dealer and not even halfway through the email, I rolled my eyes and literally said out loud …
“ARE YOU SERIOUS?”
The art dealer was clearly being less than candid. I could almost see this person’s “game face” through the email. I felt embarrassed for them.
Right after I did this, I cracked up laughing because I saw Anderson Cooper essentially do the same thing during an interview with Donald Trump Spokesperson Kellyanne Conway. He rolled his eyes after hearing something she had said. What they were talking about isn’t really the issue here.
The issue is that I think people assume that because a journalist or an interviewer is quietly listening to someone speak, it means that they agree with what’s being said. This is a big problem because it’s not about whether or not the interviewer agrees with what has been said; it’s about getting to the truth of an issue … hitting the heart of the matter.
If all of the cold, hard facts point one way and the person being interviewed is supporting something else, then we’ve got a problem here. And let’s not get into whether facts are true or not. Facts are factual and actual. That’s why they’re called, “facts.”
Despite what you’ve heard, facts speak for themselves.
The sky is blue to the human eye. That’s a fact. 1+1=2. That’s a mathematical fact. These things are true.
Here’s a tip for you. When you’re interviewing someone and you present them with facts that they’re questioning, you’ve got a problem on your hands. They’ve just put on their game face. You’re no longer interviewing them. It’s now a foolish cat and mouse game that they have initiated. Very unfortunate.
I am not accusing anyone of lying about anything, but let me just say that most journalists, writers and interviewers have very finely-tuned bullcrap detectors. We know a game face when we see it. These people fight tooth and nail to be persuasively evasive, but it just doesn’t work. They’re only embarrassing themselves. This is the nonsense that gave birth to Olivia Pope.
But here’s the thing. You don’t even have to be a trained professional to know crap when you hear it.
Don’t you know in your gut when someone who is chatting with you is spewing out crap? You’re not stupid. Of course you know. Here’s a quick example …
You hear a crash in your kitchen. You run into the kitchen where your four-year-old has clearly pushed a stool up against the counter and climbed up to the cookie jar where he has taken and eaten a couple of cookies.
Whose kid hasn’t done that?
The evidence is overwhelming. The cookie jar top is in shattered pieces on the floor, one of your kid’s slippers is dangling from the bottom rung of the stool, there are cookie crumbs not only on the counter, but all over your kid’s face.
It’s no huge deal. You’re just glad that your son is okay, but for the sake of argument, you ask your kid …
“What is going on? Bobby, did you get cookies from the cookie jar?”
And Bobby, with chocolate chips smeared all over his mouth replies …
“No! I don’t know what happened!”
Needless to say, as the parent, you look at this kid and without even really thinking, you blurt out …
“ARE YOU SERIOUS?”
It’s embarrassing. You feel embarrassed for your own kid because you clearly know what just went down, but your kid … being a kid … won’t cop to it.
If you’re a good parent, you immediately see the early development of a character flaw and you handle it right then and there. Yet, however you address it is your business.
You know, we as adults aren’t much different. When we are in situations where our hands are caught in the cookie jar, we come up with all sorts of reasons and justifications for our behavior. We often talk about things not always being “black and white” or as “cut and dry” as we’d like them to be.
We often use adult sophistication or life being mostly in a “gray area” to justify our lack of candor or transparency.
But here’s the problem. When we do that, we’re not hurting the inquisitor. We’re not hurting the journalist or the interviewer. We’re only hurting ourselves.
Can we really talk here?
As a journalist and an interviewer, I think I’m always quietly rooting for my interview subject. Even if they’ve done something wrong or committed a heinous crime, I want them to comeback. I want them to rise.
But in order for anyone to comeback and rise, they’ve got to take responsibility. They’ve got to speak truth. They’ve got to walk the pathway that leads to transparency.
I cannot tell you how many times I interviewed people who’ve said things that make me cringe.
I will never forget the time I interviewed this teenager who was behind bars for setting a fire that burned down a church. The authorities were throwing the book at this kid. People were calling him a “bad seed.” He had a criminal record that included similar destructive activity that involved dogs and cats.
On the day I went to interview him, I was determined to find some redemption that I could report in this story. I wanted to try to help this young man remediate himself.
While looking at him, I said, “You know, people are calling you a ‘bad seed.’ That isn’t true. Is it?”
And without missing a beat, the kid looked back at me and said, “Yes, it is.”
With that, my heart sank. All I could think was … “Are you serious?”
Well, I guess the kid was telling the truth, at least. No game face there.
All I could do at that point was simply tell the story of what had happened. My search for any sort of humanity or redemption or saving grace had ended.
I tell that story because I really want you to understand that I think few people truly understand humanity better than interviewers, writers and journalists. We GET it. We understand human frailty and pain and suffering.
We understand the often harsh realities of life. We understand problems. We understand failure and setbacks. But the real issue is …
How are we going to deal with these things?
Are we going to stonewall and pivot and put on game faces or are we going to rise to the occasion? Are we going to acknowledge our momentary vulnerability and share our humanity or are we going to put up a veneer of formidability, put on our game face and be less than truthful?
People are not stupid. They KNOW lack of transparency and anything less than candor when they hear it. You can even sense this in the written word.
When you put on your game face, you’re doing just that. You’re playing a game. You’re playing THE game. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had colleagues return from interviews and they say …
“Oh, he said this … but everybody knows he’s full of crap!”
When you put on your game face, you are no longer standing in your truth, you’re standing in a pile neck-high crap and if you think no sees through it, you’re only kidding yourself.
Several years ago, I was playing with my little niece Hannah. I was pretending to put a toy car in my mouth and eat it. The first time I did it, she fell for it and laughed. However, the second time I did it, she got a scornful look on her face and yelled out …
I was busted. Game face over.
You know, lots of folks have built careers on their game face, but that has got to be a very lonely, shallow and hollow life.
Game faces echo back nothing but self delusion … as my little niece so clearly taught me. Game faces give birth to parody. They must be exhausting. I mean, game faces can get you through the moment, but how on earth can your self-esteem survive when you’re walking through life with a constant game face on?
At some point, you’ve got to start hating yourself.
I don’t know. I just think that for all of the work we do putting on game faces, we could use that energy for things that will actually benefit us long term and advance our reputations rather than hurting them.
Funny, because conventional wisdom says game faces are necessary to keep your career. That’s often true, but consider this … game faces may sustain your career, but authenticity can make your life. The choice is yours.
Everyone knows when you’re wearing your game face. It’s as clear as chocolate chips smeared all over your mouth.