For most of us, the end-of-year festivities are in full swing. We get to enjoy holiday treats. Lift a wine glass with colleagues, friends, and loved ones. Step back from the daily grind and enjoy some light-hearted holiday fun.
Or, we could take these golden holiday social events to work on our qualitative interviewing skills! That’s right. I want to invite you to participate in another NEO’s holiday challenge: The Qualitative Interview challenge. (You can read about our Appreciative Inquiry challenge here.)
If you are a bit introverted and overwhelmed in holiday situations, this challenge is perfect for you. It will give you a mission: a task to take your mind off that social awkwardness you feel in large crowds. (Please tell me I’m not the only one!) If, on the other hand, you are more of a life-of-the-party guest, this challenge will help you talk less and listen more. Other party-goers will love you and you might learn something.
Here’s your challenge. Jot down some good conversational questions that fit typical categories of qualitative interview questions. Commit a couple questions to memory before you hit a party. Use those questions to fuel conversations with fellow party-goers and see if you get the type of information you were seeking.
To really immerse yourself in this challenge, create a chart with the six categories of questions. (I provided an example below) When your question is successful (i.e., you get the type of information you wanted), give yourself a star. Sparkly star stickers are fun, but you can also simply draw stars beside the questions. Your goal is to get at least one star in each category by midnight on December 31.
According to qualitative researcher/teacher extraordinaire Michael Q. Patton, there are six general categories of qualitative interview questions. Here are categories:
To take this challenge up a notch, try to incorporate the following techniques while practicing interview skills over egg nog.
Ask open-ended questions. Closed-ended questions can be answered with a word or phrase. “Did you like the movie?” The answer “Yes” or “No” is a comprehensive response to that question. An open-ended version of this question might be “Describe a good movie you saw recently.” If you phrased your question so that your conversation partner had to string together words or sentences to form an answer, give yourself an extra star.
Pay attention to question sequence: The easiest questions for people to answer are those that ask them to tell a story. The act of telling a story helps people get in touch with their opinions and feelings about something. Also, once you have respectfully listened to their story, they will feel more comfortable sharing opinions and feelings with you. So break the ice with experience questions.
Wait for answers: Sometimes we ask questions, then don’t wait for a response. Some people have to think through an answer completely before they talk out loud. Those seconds of silence make me want to jump in with a rephrased question. The problem is, you’ll start the clock again as they contemplate the new version of your question. To hold myself back, I try to pay attention to my own breathing while maintaining friendly eye contact.
Connect and support: You get another star if you listened carefully enough to accurately reflect their answers back to them. This is called reflective listening. If you want a fun tutorial on how to listen, check out Julian Treasure’s TEDtalk.
Some of you are likely thinking “Thanks but no thanks for this holiday challenge.” Maybe it seems too much like work. Maybe you plan to avoid social gatherings like the plague this season. Fair enough. All of the tips apply to bona fide qualitative interviews. When planning and conducting qualitative interviews, remember to include questions that target different types of information. Make your questions open-ended and sequence them so they are easy to answer. Listen carefully and connect with your interviewee by reflecting back what you heard.
Regardless of whether you take up the challenge or not, I wish you happy holidays full of fun and warm conversations.
My source for interview question types and interview techniques was Patton MQ. Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods. 4th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2015.