Listening looks easy, but it’s not simple. Every head is a world

Thanks to my adventures with Future Gov I have spent the last couple of weeks visiting new places and meeting new people. The official term for this activity is called ‘Contextual Interviews’ but I think of it as a conversation that is dependent on me being a really good listener.  I echo what the team at Engine think about this:

“The researcher has the sensitive challenge of conducting an interview without it seeming to be an interview, but rather a chat where questions and answers are exchanged in both directions. The best way to do this is to avoid taking notes (occasionally skirting off to the toilet to write them down before you forget!).”

We all admire those who know how to talk to people, or have the innate ability to easily engage in a conversation even in an unfamiliar gathering. I suppose some people believe that you are born with the natural ability to talk to people or you have what is called the gift of the gab.

However, the ability to talk or convey ideas whether in a small group or up on stage before a large audience is not an innate ability but an acquired skill. It can be learned, enhanced, and perfected. All you need are the right information and the determination to do it.

This got me thinking about the students and young designers out there who interview people as part of their research.. there isn’t really any information directed at how to interview as part of the design / co-design / co-creation process. I do believe it is a special skill and you have to practice and learn it.

Here are some tips that were top of my list:

  • Be presentable
  • Think about it before hand
  • Be respectful
  • Look them in the eye
  • Turn your phone off
  • Listen
  • Establish rapport
  • Be positive
  • Smile

There is a nice little video from the IIT Institute of Design who believe ethnography and interviewing are how we, as designers, see the world through other people’s eyes and get them to tell us their stories.

Getting People to Talk: An Ethnography & Interviewing Primer from Gabe & Kristy on Vimeo.