3 Secrets to Better Interviews

Get Up Close and Personal with Qualitative Research
Get Up Close and Personal with Customers – Without Them Knowing It
March 1, 2018

Let me begin by asking you to think back to a time when you were young and your Mom and Dad caught you doing something you shouldn’t have been doing.  Try to remember it as vividly as possible by asking yourself…

Where am I?

How old am I?

What is happening?

Now, think back. What did your parents ask? They probably asked…

“Why did you do that?”

How did you feel when mom asked, “Why did you do that?”

If you’re like most people, you probably felt defensive and needing to justify or rationalize your behavior.  Well, guess what?  Those are exactly the reasons I don’t ask the question “why” when I am doing any type of in-depth interview.  Let me explain.

To Improve Interviewing Effectiveness STOP Asking “Why”

One of the goals of qualitative research is to discover hidden emotions and motivators.  But this assumes that the people we are talking to are in touch with their emotions and motivators and are able to tell us in words what these are.  Unfortunately, this is often not true.

Asking “why” is Counterproductive!

Let me give you an example.  In a recent study, my client knew that customers had certain “fears.” We needed to do a “deep dive” to understand the sources, drivers and intensity of these fears.  Directly asking “why” people felt the way did had not generated useful insights, so we suggested an alternative approach.

3 Step Approach – More Effective than Asking “Why”

I find the following three step approach to be highly effective, yielding far better results than simply asking “why” questions. This works because it validates people so they don’t feel defensive, and we can understand emotions and motivations through a process that probes without using “Why” questions.

If you want to understand emotions and motivators, follows these three steps.

  1. Create a Safe Space – Unless people feel safe, they will not open up to me. Create a safe space by gently asking for reasons and examples to validate what they are saying.  Ask about their reasons to validate their answers and create a safe space that yields insights.
  2. Let them lead – I always follow the lead of the person I am interviewing. It is important to follow their story flow rather than forcing them into a rigid sequence of questions.
  3. Above all, show interest in and validate their reasons – They must believe that I am genuinely interested in understanding the reasons for their behavior! When people understand this, they are able to let go of the need to look good or try to impress me and, instead, tell me their true feelings.

3 Secrets to Better InterviewingWhat Does This Approach Look Like?

In a recent study, I interviewed home sellers who were fearful their home would not sell. We needed to understand what was at the root of this fear. If my client could truly understand this fear, they could possible provide a solution and gain a competitive advantage.

Here is an example of the interview flow when they said, “I’m afraid my house won’t sell.”

  1. “Tell me more about that.” (Creates a Safe Space; probes without out asking “why”)

Answer:  Well, you see we really put a lot of money into our house that in hindsight wasn’t the best use of our money.  We didn’t upgrade the kitchen, and everyone tells me that is very important to buyers.  But our house is bigger and really has a nice backyard.

  1. “So, how certain are you that you won’t be able to sell your home?” (Let them lead)

Answer: Oh, I’m just basing it on what others have told me. I guess I’m being a bit pessimistic because everyone keeps telling me we should have put the $$ into the kitchen and not the backyard, but I really like what we’ve done to the backyard.

  1. “I see. So, how do you feel when you think about the probability of not selling your current home?” (Show Interest)

Answer: Honestly, my stomach gets tied up in knots.  I really want to move into a new home we saw.  But, if I can’t sell this house, we will miss out on buying this other house.

  1. “So, to clarify, I think you just said your real fear is that you won’t be able to buy the new home, is that correct?” (Validate Their Reasons)

Answer: Absolutely!  It’s terrible when you see a house you want and you need to get rid of the house you’re in first. But it makes me feel just crazy since you can’t control what other people think about your house!

Benefits of 3-Step Approach

Benefits of Qualitative Research

By using this 3-step approach, a crucial benefit was identified. We learned that the fear is less that they cannot sell their current home and more about missing out on buying a new home that they love.  This 3-step approach allows us to discover motivations based on emotional drivers which can predict behavior.

Learning this led our client to brainstorm ways for home sellers to be able to buy a new home even if their current home was still on the market.


Bottom Line

Don’t take it personally BUT STOP ASKING “WHY?” By using my 3 Step Approach and eliminating the word “why” I am able to get at deep emotions and fears and truly understand where the respondent is coming from.