Recently, I interviewed a retired couple about life after retirement. We met on a Monday morning and chatted for a couple of hours. Like many other interviews, this one taught me a lot. By the time I sat down to eat lunch with them, I had already experienced the Aha moment that I want to share with you in this post. Later, as I watched the video recording of the interview, I jotted down interviewing techniques that are fundamental to a good interview. I will share these techniques as well. As I left their house, I asked myself the question that determines whether an interview has been worth it. Would this interview help me sell my product/service better, because I learned something that I would not have known otherwise? My answer was yes. I knew that the interview had been worth it.
Usually, each interview has a specific purpose and it is not a generic process. Also, there are types of interviews that a can be chosen based on information needs. Many interviews are marked by that Aha moment, when the interviewer gets a flash of insight.
The following are six interviewing techniques that should be followed as good practices.
Technique 1–Let them take control
When I start an interview, I let the interviewee(s) talk for three to five minutes. Even if they digress off the topic, I let them do so. This is like a warm up before a work out. In the case of an interview, it also helps the interviewee(s) feel at ease, feel important and feel like I want them to express their opinions. After that initial phase, I continue to let them feel like they are the ones controlling the conversation. My questions and requests for clarification are never dominating. I show interest in their opinions and might talk loudly at times, but I never argue with them or criticize them.
So, the first interviewing technique to follow is to let the interviewee take control.
Technique 2–Don’t read questions
When I interview, I try not to give away that I have a prewritten script of questions in my mind. Often the questions are right there on the sheet or note pad that I am carrying. I glance at the questions quickly while talking, but very quickly so that the interviewees cannot figure it out. If the questions are there in my mind and I have memorized the order like a script, a quick peek is all I need to refresh my memory. One tactic that I use to help this process is to write key words beside each question. So, when I glance at the question during the interview, the key word reminds me what the question is.
So, the second interviewing technique to follow is to avoid reading the questions from a sheet of paper.
Technique 3 – Ask why and how
It has been a while, since I passed out of elementary school. Yet, some of those challenges that I faced when I started writing paragraphs still haunt me. One such hurdle was learning to explain the why and how of things. I still find myself failing at this task at times. So, if I write about someone being funny, I may not be able to explain why they are funny.
The same mistake is prevalent in interviews that I watch on television or as a researcher. This leads to the third interviewing technique–using lots of why and how clarifications during an interview. As the interview progresses, I notice my interviewee(s) speaking a lot but also getting tired. This makes them forget to clarify all their statements. I like to jump in and ask them why they said something – “Why do you say that Toronto is a wonderful place to stay?”. I also ask them how they know something– “How do you know that this cream has steroids?”.
Technique 4 – Avoid leading questions
I love to impose my opinions on others, as my wife and mother keep complaining. I make statements such as, “Vegetarian food is good for the environment!” or “Don’t drink alcohol everyday!” These are statements laced with subjective opinions.
When I interview, I must keep reminding myself to not express my opinions and maintain a neutral stance. This is not difficult, although it requires some practice.
During an interview, it is easy to lead the interviewee(s) into an opinionated mindset by asking them a leading question. For example, if I ask someone why education is necessary for a peaceful planet, I am leading the interviewee(s) within the context of a widespread opinion that education is a good thing. Instead, I should ask them their opinions about how education might impact levels of violence, so they can simply discuss the connection between education and a peaceful planet.
So, the fourth interviewing technique to follow is to avoid leading questions.
Technique 5 – Avoid loaded questions
I have an uncle who is known for being dramatic. Whenever he visits, he spends an hour discussing the state of the world using animated gestures and strong words. It is his way of getting attention and feeling important.
I never use his technique when it comes to interviewing. Instead, I do the opposite and avoid questions that are loaded with strong words. A loaded question is like a leading question but also different.
If I ask you whether you would like to eat vegetarian to protect yourself from the harmful antibiotics that are used to produce meat, I am loading my question with adjectives that are bound to influence your thinking. This is an example of a loaded question. I should ideally avoid loaded words and ask whether you are considering becoming vegetarian and if so, why you have made such a decision. The use of loaded words does introduce an opinion, so a loaded question is also a leading question at times.
So, the fifth interviewing technique to follow is to avoid loaded questions.
Technique 6 – Use projective techniques
A projective technique is a questioning method. I can use this technique to find out how a friend or colleague perceives me. Since these perceptions are often intangible, they are not easy to articulate.
Perceptions exist in the subconscious, which is something “existing or operating in the mind beneath or beyond consciousness” (Dictionary.com). I will struggle to express my perceptions of the same friend as these are outside my regular consciousness.
A projective technique is handy in such a situation, because it allows me to project these subconscious perceptions on to a tangible object. In a sense it is a shortcut. Instead of having to dig deep into my mind, I simply choose an animal, fruit, city or car that expresses these perceptions.
So, I would ask my friend – Please choose a fruit or animal that best represents me?
It is a clever idea to ask for clarification – Why did you choose a mango to represent me?
So, the sixth interviewing technique to follow is to use projective techniques.
The Aha moment
Back to the Aha moment. What’s that, you might be wondering. This is the moment, when I realize that meeting someone, talking to them and getting a first hand feel of their living and/or working environment(s) have all contributed to an invaluable insight. It makes the effort worth it.
In the case of my interview with the retired couple, the Aha moment came when I was walking around their garden with the gentleman. He mentioned that he did not really want a swimming pool in the house. He had bought the house from someone else and the pool was already there. I also understood that he would like private pools to be banned, due to their negative impact on the environment.
A little later, as we finished the tour of the garden, he showed me his man cave. This was a single chair with a few empty beer bottles strewn around it. He spends a few hours there every evening after the gardening is done. For the winter, he had an indoor man cave where he could listen to music.
Those few hours in the evening were reserved for solitary introspection and to have an enjoyable time. Those few hours in the evening were when it all seemed worth it. The long hours of work, raising a family, buying a house and then, finally, retiring to a life of comfort. I realized that the man was defined by his relationship with the garden, love for nature and the need to get away from it all during those few hours in the evening. This was the Aha moment.
Photo is by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash
Guest Author Bio
Rohit Chattopadhyay is the founder of Culture Cushion™ Consulting, a firm that helps professionals develop communication and cultural skills to succeed internationally. He has a PhD in communication from the University of Pennsylvania, USA. Rohit has conducted independent research on cultural identity issues, apart from working as a marketing research and marketing professional in Canada, India and USA. If you want to schedule a training session or workshop, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Website: Culture Cushion™ Consulting