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Orianna Rosa Royle

How leaders can deal with questions that may seem beneath them without making people feel small

Hugh Grant speaking on stage (Credit: Andreas Rent—Getty Images)

From glamorous couture gowns to Michelle Yeoh’s historic win for Best Actress and her iconic acceptance speech, there’s much to talk about in the aftermath of the 2023 Oscars.

Yet Ashley Graham’s brief interview with Hugh Grant seems to be stealing the show as the night’s “most awkward moment.”

The supermodel was working the "champagne carpet" for ABC asking celebrities fairly routine questions before the show, but the good vibes hit a roadblock when she came across the Notting Hill star.

When asked who he was most excited to see at the Academy Awards, Grant responded: “Um, no one in particular.”

When Graham inquired about what he was wearing—an absolute staple of Oscars' questioning—he replied: “Just my suit.”

Things then got particularly painful for viewers when the host asked Grant about his brief cameo in Netflix’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, nominated in the best adapted screenplay category. 

“Well, I’m barely in it,” Grant retorted. Powering through, Graham replied: “You showed up and you had fun, right?”

To which Grant replied: “Uh… almost,” rolling his eyes.. 

And of course, the short encounter has divided the internet.  

Team Grant versus Team Graham

Most people have pointed out that Graham’s interview with Grant was probably the most awkward exchange to take place at the 95th Academy Awards—for both of the stars involved. 

Film critic Robbie Collins wrote on Twitter: “Best Oscar Moment 2023: Hugh Grant ironically referencing a William Makepeace Thackeray novel and the interviewer thinking he's plugging the magazine that sponsors the after party.”

“Hugh Grant being brilliant here,” Matthew Sweet echoed, adding that he once interviewed Grant and “opened with some absurdly elaborate question.” Apparently, the actor said: "Look, you know I  just do this for the money."

But for many, Grant’s usual witty and sarcastic style came across as rude, with Rolling Stone magazine joking on Twitter that the Oscar for best actress should go to Ashley Graham for telling Hugh Grant “it was nice to talk to you.”

“Don’t do the interview if you clearly don’t want to be interviewed,” @Kirsten53708048 tweeted. 

“He’s archetypically British in his pathological dislike of showing off, and generally I like his refusal to spout vacuous nonsense about the work,” wrote Rebecca Reid for inews. But the self-confessed Grant fan added that “there is never an excuse to make someone else look stupid and feel small.”

What the experts say

Natalie Trice, a career coach and PR, said that watching the exchange made her “uncomfortable.” 

 “Yes, he is a big star and maybe having to talk to the press might seem like a task as times, but it kind of goes with the territory, and it’s also about his personal brand and reputation,” she says.

The same goes for leaders. 

While Grant’s position is clearly unique, leaders are often put in a similar situation and have to answer seemingly inane questions from their peers, team members, and the board all too often. 

"Everyone has a part to play in their industry, right from those at the top, to those at entry level, a point where all of us, including Hugh Grant, have been," Trice added.

Jill Cotton, career trends expert at Glassdoor, echoes that those in positions of power aren’t above listening to the opinions or questions of those around (or below) them.

"It's crucial to understand that a junior's question will come from a place of less experience and possibly knowledge,” Cotton says while advising leaders actively listen and frame their responses in “an encouraging manner so that the person is educated, rather than belittled.” 

She also encourages employers to take part in mentoring schemes to practice sharing their knowledge when asked seemingly obvious questions.

Like actors, leaders are often expected to put on a front in exchange for their generous pay package.

But Angelica Malin, an entrepreneur, author, and leadership coach, thinks that authenticity and vulnerability go a long way.

“I think if we took more opportunities to be our honest self and not need to play-act a response, we'd have a more honest workplace,” Malin added. “Vulnerability is the buzzword of 2023, and there's simply nothing more vulnerable than not being 'perfect' at work.”

Plus, there are “polite but firm” ways to handle questions that feel beneath you, and Malin says it’s all about coming from a place of self-respect. 

“If you know your worth and value, then don't let yourself be talked down to by anyone at work,” she says, and this advice extends to all workers.

“Even at a junior level, it's important to show that you know your worth and you're not willing to be pushed around or patronized at work—especially if you're a woman in the workplace,” she adds.

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