Lutz Blog

The art of interviewing

I’m not Mike Wallace orEd Bradley, but I like to think I know my way around an interview.

I’ve done thousands of them during my newspaper and radio career and the interviews have always been one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job. I don’t consider myself a talker, really, but I am curious about other people and what makes them tick.

The reason I’m blogging about this today is because I just hung up the phone from one of the worst interviews I’ve ever conducted. Ever. Conducted.

In fact, I’m not sure you can say I even conducted this interview because there was really nothing interview-ish about it.

I had high hopes. I was talking to a guy who had accomplished something really cool in his career, something I figured he would be happy – or at least willing – to talk about. He did, after all, give me permission to call him via telephone.

But it started off badly and went downhill from there. My questions were met with monotone replies, many of fewer than five words. Instead of taking the ball and running with it, the way many interviewees do, this guy took the ball and went home. And slammed the door behind him.

There was nothing the least bit controversial or illicit about the interview. It was all good stuff. And if I have discovered one thing over the years, it’s that most people like talking about the good stuff they’ve done or are about to do.

Not this guy.

I kept it going as long as I could until I finally just gave up and said something like: “Hey, thanks and I really wish you good luck.”

Surely he knew what a bad interview he was giving me. Right? Nobody can be that put off or detached intentionally, can they?

Perhaps I had written something about this guy in the past that set him off. But, then, why would he agree to this interview in the first place?

My questions were obvious, but good. I wanted to delve into a particular period of this person’s career in which he had tremendous struggles. He had to almost re-set his career to get to the point where he is now. There’s a fantastic story there somewhere; it’s just not inside of him to tell.

And in this case, a writer (me) can only do so much without some help from the subject (him).

I tried with six or seven questions, all of which received the same lackluster response. This guy, had he chosen, could have told a great story about perseverance. He just didn’t choose to do so. And short of stopping the interview and asking: “Are you kidding me?,” there wasn’t a lot I could do.

It got to the point of being uncomfortable. Then it became irritating. Then I became angry, although I couldn’t let that on to him. I continued with my professional approach until, finally, I had come to the end.

It was so bad that there’s probably not a column to be written. I’m going to reach out to some other people who might be able to talk about this person’s journey in sports, before I put an official kibosh on the column. But at this point, it’s not promising.

The surprising thing is that the subject of my potential column is nearing 30. You run into an occasional dud interview with high school kids from time to time, simply because they’re not worldly enough yet to be able to provide much introspection. But this guy has been around a while. He’s gone from highs to lows, like so many of us. There’s something to be said about his story.

Except he’s not saying it. So I’m probably not writing it. And that’s frustrating.

Thanks for letting me take out my frustrations on you. And by all means, let’s talk sometime. I mean, really talk.