Josie stopped short, because she had just learned something that might break the impasse. She turned to Greg. "Wait a minute," she said. "Are you saying that you never use this system to review dormant accounts?"
Greg looked surprised. "Right," he began. "But I told you that two weeks ago in my office. What's the problem?"
"I don't remember it that way," Josie explained. "But it means that we can eliminate about 20% of the work."
Josie and Greg might never figure out how they got confused, but one partial cause might be related to Josie's approach to interviewing, and Greg's approach to being interviewed.
Sometimes we interview others to elicit critical information — to resolve an ambiguity, to solve a problem, to create a design or to develop requirements. Most sources are willing, even eager to help. Yet we often come away from the effort with incomplete or wrong information. What can we do to make this kind of interview more effective?
of the willing
effective strategyEffective interviews of the willing start with effective strategy. Here are some general principles that help.
- Prepare yourself
- Know what you want to uncover, and have a plan that will get there. Unless you're an expert, improvisational interviewing is unlikely to produce the results you seek.
- Eliminate presuppositions
- Presuppositions constrain responses. Contrast "How often do you use the system for viewing dormant accounts?" with "Do you use the system for viewing dormant accounts?" The former question presupposes the use. With the presupposition, responders who don't actually view dormant accounts might feel a "should" in the question.
- Use context-free questions
- A context-free question neither suggests its answer, nor biases the responder. For instance, "What's the customer's frame of mind?" is free of context. "Is the customer under time pressure?" is not.
- Ration your questions
- Even a willing source becomes less willing as the questions keep coming. Quotas vary from person to person, and some questions "expire" — they drop out of the quota — after varying amounts of time and intervening interactions.
- Beware repetition
- Asking about the same thing repeatedly, even when the questions aren't successive, can cause some sources to feel that they're under suspicion. They might become wary and guarded.
- Plan for post-interview analysis
- Review your results after each interview. Don't assume that you understood everything you heard the first time, or that you asked unambiguous questions.
- Exploit synergy and follow up
- Compare results from multiple sources, looking for discrepancies, re-enforcements and synergies. Look for what was not said by each responder. This process often generates a need to follow up for clarification.
Strategy is only one key to conducting a successful interview. Tactics are just as important, and they're the topic for next time. Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Communication at Work:
- Changing the Subject: I
- Whether in small group discussions, large meetings, or chats between friends, changing the subject of
the conversation can be constructive, mischievous, frustrating, creative, tension relieving, necessary,
devious, or outright malicious. What techniques do we use to change the subject, and how can we cope
- Communication Refactoring in Organizations
- Inadequate communication between units of large organizations is one factor that maintains the dysfunction
of "silo" structures in large organizations, limiting their ability to act coherently. Communication
refactoring can help large organizations to see themselves as wholes.
- Formulaic Utterances: I
- With all due respect is an example of a category of linguistic forms known as formulaic
utterances. They differ across languages and cultures, but I speculate that their functions are
near universal. In the workplace, using them can be constructive — or not.
- Gratuitous Use of Synonyms, Aliases, and Metaphors
- The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed how we work. We're now more virtual than before. In this
new environment, synonyms, aliases, and metaphors can pave the path to trouble. To avoid expensive mistakes,
our use of language must be more precise.
- Avoiding Speed Bumps: II
- Many of the difficulties we encounter when working together don't create long-term harm, but they do
cause delays, confusion, and frustration. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics for avoiding
See also Effective Communication at Work and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 7: Toxic Disrupters: Tactics
- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
- And on June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
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