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Michael Gove’s guarantee question

Michael Gove has guaranteed the safety of teachers returning to work.

Live on BBC television.

That’s the good news.

But it was short-lived.

Just three minutes later, the Minister for the Cabinet Office told us:

“None of us can guarantee that.”

So can we ever guarantee anything in a job interview?

Or in an interview with clients?

Or in a media interview?

Read on.

Crisis media training Glasgow

michael gove, the andrew marr show, crisis media training glasgow

The short answer is yes: but it has to be something 100% within your control.

We can only guarantee our attitude, our effort and our intentions.

As we know from running crisis media training in Glasgow.

And in 25 countries around the world.

Whenever we ask the ‘guarantee question’, we’re setting a trap.

The BBC’s Andrew Marr was setting the same trap.

And Mr Gove walked straight in.

How it happened

how it happened, michael gove, crisis media training glasgow

Here’s an extract of their conversation.

Andrew Marr started:

“Do you think teachers should be safe in school?”

Gove answered:

“Yes, teachers will be safe in school.”

(Well he was asked what he thought, so that’s OK.)

Marr came back:

“Can you guarantee teachers will be safe?”

Gove replied:

“Yes. We’re confident teachers and children will be safe.”

(But now he’s guaranteed the safety of every teacher.)

So Marr probed further:

“You can sit here and guarantee no teacher will catch coronavirus?”

And Gove gave a fudged answer.

Marr seized on the opportunity:

“Sounds like, from what you’re saying, you can’t really guarantee…”

Gove answered:

“You can never eliminate risk.

“It’s extremely unlikely that any school will be the source of a Covid outbreak.”

This is now a complete backtrack.

Marr returned again:

“You can’t absolutely guarantee teachers won’t catch coronavirus but you need schools to open?”

Finally, Gove replied:

“None of us… none of us can guarantee that anyone will be entirely free unless perpetually imprisoned in their homes.”

And there’s the truth of it.

So what should Michael Gove have said?

The question:

“Can you guarantee teachers will be safe?”

The answer:

“No. That would be impossible (unless we’re all imprisoned in our homes forever).

“What I can guarantee is that we will work with teachers, their unions and parents to do everything we can to make a return to school as safe as we possibly can.

“We need schools to return for the following reasons…”

There’s a rule to follow here.

Start with the truth – and you’re free then to put it in perspective

crisis media training glasgow, start with the truth, bill mcfarlan

On our crisis media training in Glasgow and across the world.

We want participants to be able to answer every question.

With honesty and integrity.

But it’s the same in an interview for a new job.

For a promotion.

With a client.

And in any media situation.

Only guarantee what you can control.

Or you’ll find yourself guaranteeing the impossible.

Or reeling back on a promise you made minutes earlier.


Bill McFarlan is co-Founder and Executive Chairman at Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can read his full profile here.

And click here for our Pink Elephant vlog on handling a crisis.
Screenshots in Crisis media training Glasgow blog courtesy of BBC | The Andrew Marr Show
Feature image in Crisis media training Glasgow by UK Prime Minister on BY-NC-ND.
Crisis media training Glasgow blog edited by Colin Stone.

Crisis media training Glasgow

19th May 2020 Featured in: Blog, Crisis management training blogs By:

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