Use eye contact and ears to collect data

by | Jun 17, 2013 | Blog | 0 comments

Look them in their eyes, ask them a question and listen to their response.

When you meet with people one-on-one to gather information, you show respect. That helps you build trust as you also learn and gather valuable insights for making improvements.

This old school behavior still reaps benefits, especially when you ask a combination of closed-ended and open-ended questions. (For more about these two types of questions, see Closed up for clarity.)

While in-person meetings take time to conduct—especially when you consider the scheduling component—they’re well worth the investment in many situations. (Video and audio calls are a close second and third to in-person interviews.)

My agenda for in-person interviews is fairly simply. (And of course, I have an agenda. See Don’t agonize; agendize for why agendas are so important.)

Working with my client, we determine the objectives for the interviews, such as gathering points of view on a specific topic (or individual) and gaining support for a strategic initiative.

Then, like a survey, I develop the questions in advance. Yet I practice improv during each interview—which makes the interviews so powerful.

Based on what the individuals say and I hear, I ask targeted follow-up questions. I’m not just giving individuals the option to provide write-in responses; I’m also giving them an opening to offer color commentary.

Because I’m an objective outsider who’s expressing genuine interest in what they say, most interviewees open up and share more details and nuances. As a result, we explore the topic in Technicolor.

By contrast, surveys present the results in black and white—especially the short ones these days that ask only “yes” and “no” questions—with some shades of gray.

As for the type of applications for which I like to do one-on-one interviews, consider these three:

  • Feedback. Individual sessions with key stakeholders are especially helpful at the front end of a change initiative to get a baseline measure and then at the back end to review the experience and assess lessons learned. At the front end, I can better gauge individuals’ interest level in the initiative, including their energy level, than if I ask a survey. At the back end and for post project-debriefs, I’m able to glean insights on how people perceive what happened within context of everything else going on, which can be very useful for preparing for the next round of changes. (Some change, even if it’s not yet defined, will be coming around the corner soon.)
  • “Live” 360 degree assessment. When I meet with individuals one-on-one to ask them confidentially about the individual I’m coaching, I accomplish two objectives. First, I gather useful insights about the coachee and their work style, which will be helpful for us throughout the coaching engagement. Second, the individuals participating in the interviews become more invested in the process—thanks to giving up more time and thought in a personal meeting rather than in filling out an online survey. Often times, they express the desire for a positive outcome for themselves and the coachee. This support encourages the coachee to accept their feedback and make positive changes.
  • Market research. When I conduct individual interviews of internal or external customers, I find that they become engaged in the “conversation” (which is generally one-sided as I don’t talk much). They often comment on how they’re enjoying the experience. They’re able to express themselves in their terms, rather than working within the confines of a survey. Often, they also will volunteer how much they value the individual/group/organization that’s sponsoring the research. The goodwill on both sides—customer and client—strengthens the working relationship.

These one-on-one interviews provide a personal touch that’s often missing at work these days as we communicate more and more asynchronously.

Technology has made it so much easier to communicate across geographies and time zones in our busy work days, but we don’t often really connect—even though we’re part of the “connection economy.”

Giving someone permission to share what’s on their mind and then listening intently to what they say is more than a throwback to the past. It can be the workplace equivalent of a powerful aphrodisiac.

Are you giving your colleagues and key customers enough opportunities to speak and be heard?


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