Monday, September 01, 2008

Site visit interviews: from good to great

Beyond the basics of interviewing ...

"Field visits are unique in the way that they allow us to blend context, observation and interview: we're able to observe a behaviour, probe for the motivations behind it and then interpret our analysis with the customer in the place where the behaviour happens. But how do you go beyond the basics of a conventional interview and really understand the user's behaviour? Here are 5 characteristics that we've seen in great interviewers that led to deeper insights on our projects.

Good interviewers build rapport. Great interviewers realise that rapport involves more than meeting and greeting.

Rapport is the ability to be on the same wavelength as your interviewee — to make a mental and emotional connection. But rapport isn't just something you do when you first chat to someone over tea and biscuits. It's a continual process of building a relationship based on trust and understanding. To develop real rapport you need to see the world the same way as your interviewee.

One effective way to do this is to match your interviewee on both a verbal and a non-verbal level. On a non-verbal level, look at the interviewee's body language — their posture, movement, sitting position and gestures — and echo these behaviours. Time your mirroring behaviour so it's not seen as too contrived. Note that you don't have to do exactly the same as your interviewee: sometimes "cross matching" (making the same movement with another part of your body) is more effective.

On a verbal level, pay attention to the volume, tone and pitch of the interviewee's voice as well as the choice of content and words themselves. For example, does your interviewee tend to use the phrase "I think" in preference to "I feel"? Depending on your own preference you may have to adapt the way you communicate to mirror these terms. Using the same preference as your interviewees will make them think — or feel — they are more understood and valued. This in turn means you'll get richer information from them.

Good interviewers listen. Great interviewers realise that listening involves more than using our ears.

"Hearing" and "listening" are two different activities. Really listening to someone is an active process: it's about hearing what the person says both verbally and non—verbally. It's about listening with your eyes as well as your ears, observing and responding to the interviewee's body language. There are four key steps to active listening:

* Begin by making a decision to become genuinely interested in what the interviewee thinks, feels and wants.
* Then show interviewees that you are really attending to what they are saying through your body language: with an open posture and eye contact.
* Next, listen for the meaning behind the words. What is the speaker trying to tell you? What do they want you to hear?
* Finally, demonstrate you've listened to your interviewee by showing you are finding what they are saying interesting and encouraging the speaker to tell you more.

Good interviewers are sympathetic. Great interviewers are empathic.

Good interviewers may be sympathetic to an interviewee's plight but great interviewers use empathic responses to make people feel understood and valued. An "empathic reflection" is giving the speaker a verbal summary of what you consider he or she thinks, feels, and believes, without passing judgment. Empathic reflections sound like this:

* "You feel...because..."
* "I'm picking up that you..."
* "So, from where you sit..."
* "It seems as if..."
* "I get the feeling..."
* "What I hear you saying is..."

An empathic reflection allows you to validate your understanding and build a relationship with interviewees by demonstrating that you understand them. It also gives interviewees the opportunity to correct you if you have misunderstood them — one of the cornerstones of contextual inquiry. You may find this helps interviewees clarify their ideas, emotions, and needs. Using empathic responses also helps keep the conversation in the interviewee's realm by preventing you from asking too many questions."    (Continued via UsabilityNews, UserFocus)    [Usability Resources]

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