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.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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