Sunday, August 31, 2014

Capturing the Conversation

Really listening to someone else's story can be a bit of a challenge, particularly if the things they are talking about aren't interesting to you. Even if you are interested, the act of writing the story down, accurately recording your observations about their posture, any emotional expressions like their tone of voice or inflections, can be a real challenge.  This is why the Stanford method strongly suggests that two people do the interviewing, one to ask the questions and the other to record the replies and capture the emotional components of the conversation. If you've ever tried to take notes during a lecture, you know how hard it is to simply capture the ideas, let alone take actual dictation. Listening, reading and writing seem to use different sets of cognitive skills.

Richard Feynman conducted an experiment where he practiced counting at a steady rate while simultaneously performing other actions, such as running up and down stairs, reading, writing and counting objects. He discovered that he “could do anything while counting to [himself]—except talk out loud”.

The balance of these cognitive skills appears to vary from person to person. Feynman shared his discovery with a group of people, one of whom (John Tukey) had a different experience: Tukey could easily speak aloud, but could not read while reciting numbers to himself.  Feynman concluded that he was “hearing” the numbers in his head, while Tukey was “seeing” the numbers go by.

The point here is that regardless of the blend of listening/writing skills you may have, it's best to have one person ask the questions and another record the replies and physio-emotional content of the conversation. If you can't get someone else to help, use your smartphone or a camera to make a video recording of the interview, with the subject well enough lit and positioned that you can clearly see their facial expressions and posture and clearly hear their voice, so that you can analyze the conversation later.

It's a good idea to get permission to record the conversation before you start. You might say something like; "Would it be all right if we recorded our conversation so I can be sure to not miss anything important?"

The thing that makes Interviewing with Empathy different from other types of interviews is that with IFE, you want the other person to express their emotions and tell you their story.

In a recent blog posting called Help with Emotional Interviews, Chip Scanian quoted Joe Hight, managing editor of The Oklahoman about how to handle emotionally laden interviews:

"Most people... need someone who’s compassionate and human."

The traditional bias has been to keep things unemotional ("factual") during an interview, if at all possible. With DT, you want the other person to open up naturally and comfortably about their problems and frustrations - their "Pain Points."

One way to reveal these is to ask questions like; "What are some of the most frustrating aspects of the situation?" or "What do you love or hate most your circumstances?"

The observations you capture in the interview will be used to populate an "empathy map";

Empathy Map

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