An interview forms an important experiential element in my design thinking workshops. Sometimes participants interview strangers on the road, in a mall or on the campus etc. Other times, they interview other participants. Are there any core elements of an empathic interview? Let’s explore in this article.
Listening: Sometimes, we have paired interviews in the class. Partner-1 interviews partner-2 for 5-10 minutes and then they switch their roles. This is where I notice confusion in some participants. They lose track of their roles as an interviewer or an interviewee. And the interview turns into a discussion. Listening is perhaps the most important element of an empathic interview. Many times the interviewer also has knowledge and opinions on the topic (s)he is interviewing on. And hence, the interviewer also starts sharing his own experience. This is likely to influence the interviewee’s response. Hence, the interviewer should focus on listening. I suggest 80-20 rule i.e. interviewer should talk 20 percent of the time, and interviewee 80 percent. But the urge to speak is sometimes very powerful. Moreover, interviewer’s listening can be hampered if the voice in the head is constantly judging what is being heard. It needs watchfulness or alertness.
Appreciation: Imagine two executives in formal dress interviewing a security guard near the security gate of their office. The interviewers may have good intentions of understanding the security guard as a person and nothing beyond that. However, the security guard might feel vulnerable. A complaint from any of these interviewers and he could lose his job. What is the chance that he would speak from his heart? Very low. Hence, it is important to try to make the other person feel comfortable. How does one even attempt to communicate that, as a human being, the security guard has as much dignity as anyone else? It is not easy. However, one way to begin this communication is by spotting something about the person noteworthy and appreciating it. For a security guard, it could be his vigilance ability, or his ability to stand under the hot sun or his ability to work long hours etc. For a person who might be feeling, “I am not worth much”, this ability-specific appreciation could go a long way in restoring self-confidence. Whether it is a security guard or a CEO or a struggling student, everybody carries bright spots – things that are worth appreciating. The interviewer needs to develop the skill to spot these areas and appreciate them.
Elaboration: Imagine you are interviewing a senior manager who is very busy. She is struggling to give quality time to her family. She mentions that she has registered for an online course to learn “Machine learning” but she is falling behind in terms of class schedule. Now, she is articulating this story with a bit of frustration. However, it would be good for the interviewer to see her willingness to learn despite being busy as a bright spot worth appreciating. However, appreciation is not enough. This is an area where there may be important information about how this person finds time for online learning despite her busy schedule. Does she listen to her lectures during commute time? Or late at night? Does she have buddies at work for this course? Does she get time to read the textbook? Is her spouse supportive? Every bright and dark spot offers an opportunity to learn more and hence elaboration plays an important role in empathic interviews. This can be looked upon as a context discovery process. When she is learning, what is the surrounding context that is enabling the learning process? People, devices, processes etc. Thus context curiosity is critical for elaboration.