Interviewers don’t always get what they ask for but when they do, it can often cause difficulties for the interview.

Nick Robinson posed a long question to Michael Gove on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday and asked for a one word answer: yes or no. When Gove, the Secretary of State for Rural Affairs, duly obliged, Robinson had to confirm what the answer was referring to.

Long questions short answers

That is the problem with long questions and short answers: which part of the question is the answer referring to? In the transcript below, Robinson carefully built up his question (lines 01-10) before requesting a ‘yes or no’ answer. Gove (MG) duly obliged and answered ‘yes’ in line 12. But was this a ‘yes’ to ‘no extension’ or to the ‘customs problem’ or maybe to his friend and colleague Nick Boles? After a brief hesitation, Robinson (NR) in line 14 had to confirm the reference of the affirmative answer. Gove picked up on the difficulty of one word answers in line 17 and was able to see the funny side of things.

01 NR: this can be a one word answer if you wouldn’t mind
02     just to be absolutely clear
03     those who say
04     that the customs union
05     should just be extended a few months
06     your own (.) friend and colleague Nick Boles
07     you are saying
08     no extension (0.6) at all
09     in any circumstances
10     to deal with the customs problem
11     yes or no
12 MG: yes
13    (0.6)
14 NR: yes (0.5) there will not be an extension
15 MG: yes
16 NR: okay
17 MG: that’s the difficulties with one word answers
18 NR: yeh
19 MG: when you ask ((laughs))
20     when you ask questions [that long Nick
21 NR:                        [ah forgive me
22     my [fault
23 MG:    [but the truth is
24     I don’t believe in an extension
25 NR: you don’t believe in an extension
26     that is very clear

External link to clip

This is not the first time Michael Gove has momentarily disarmed an interviewer with surprisingly short and honest answers. See his interview here with Andrew Marr on the very same show: ‘Gove goes for brevity

The Andrew Marr Show, BBC, 13th May 2018