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How NOT to Answer a Question

11/04/2010 11:15 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

During the hotly-contested campaign for the U.S. Senate seat for Connecticut, Democratic Attorney General Dick Blumenthal met Republican candidate Linda McMahon in a debate that was streamed live on the Internet and then televised later. During the debate, Ms. McMahon asked her opponent, "How do you create a job?"

Mr. Blumenthal replied, "A job is created, and it can be in a variety of ways, by a variety of people, but principally by people and businesses in response to demand for products and services. And, the main point about jobs in Connecticut is we can and we should create more of them by creative policies, and that's the kind of approach that I want to bring to Washington."

He then went on for another minute, singing his own praises as the right candidate for the seat. But those first 34 seconds of his answer represent a classic example of tautology or circular reasoning or, in the vernacular, getting wrapped around his own axle. (See the whole clip on YouTube)

The one-third fluff/two-thirds sell ratio is a classic example of how politicians spin questions: they do not address the issue in a question or they touch on it ever so lightly and then go on to state their own case. This was not the first time in the campaign that Mr. Blumenthal misspoke. In an earlier post, you read about how he had to walk back from a statement that he had seen active duty in Vietnam.

Ms. McMahon's camp made capital of both gaffes. Throughout the campaign, she used every opportunity to bring up the Vietnam issue, and then, after Mr. Blumenthal's "axle" answer, she ran a television ad with his non-answer superimposed with text that read, "Why can't Dick Blumenthal answer the question?"

Despite all these efforts, Mr. Blumenthal, a career politician, went on to beat a political novice whose prior experience was as the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment. The lesson here is that the public has become inured to political spin.

However, such behavior is completely unacceptable in business and every other walk of life--including interpersonal relations. You have every right to toot your own horn but, in an exchange with another human being, you must earn the right to do so by first answering the question.

Keep your axle untangled and keep on the straight and narrow.