Is it ever a good strategy to let your audience figure out what you mean when you're answering a question?
Simple answer: No.
Case in point: Bank of America Chief Ken Lewis' testimony on Capitol Hill yesterday. When asked if the Fed or Treasury Department pressured the bank to acquire Merrill Lynch, Lewis said "it was difficult to find the exact right word... it's just best to describe it and let people come to (their own) conclusions."
Wrong answer. It's never a good strategy to let people come to their own conclusions. People will fill in the words for you. In this case, the word is pressured, the very word Lewis did not want to give them. Interestingly, I've yet to see anyone attribute the word pressure in a direct quote from Lewis yet headlines and news accounts are reporting just that.
Cynics would say Lewis knew exactly what he was doing. He didn't want to offend Fed or Treasury officials so he let House members and the press do his dirty work for him by reporting that he was pressured.
That might well be. But if you happened to be watching TV yesterday when the hearings were taking place or if you just read one of the news accounts, you might have a very different reaction.
Lewis sounded like he was trying to dodge the issue. No accountability. He sounded like he was waffling by saying he couldn't come up with the right word. Is that credible? Is it possible no one on his PR team thought to prep him on the answer to this question? Probably not.
Here's the bottom line: if you're ever in the situation where someone asks you a pointed or loaded question, you shouldn't repeat their language but at least give them something. Maybe the word we're looking for here is nuance.