Exercise 3: What not to do in research interviews

Read the section on ‘The interview dynamic’ in Chapter 4 in the book.

To get a ‘felt sense’ of how important it is for a good rapport to be created between the interviewer and the interviewee, we are now going to try to interview badly. You will need to do this with another person who is learning about interviewing (ideally a classmate) and who is aware of the premise of this exercise (that is, who knows that you are going to interview them in a way that breaks the rules). This is a fun exercise to do but it should show you what it would be like to be on the receiving end of poor interviewing practice and how that would affect the quality of the data that you would obtain.

Take the interview schedule that you developed in Exercise 2. Tell your partner about the research topic, aims and questions that gave rise to your interview schedule. This will allow them to think themselves into the role of a participant to whom the research topic is relevant. Remind them to be careful here if the research topic is a sensitive one, especially if it is personally relevant to them. In that case, during the interview, they should not respond as themselves but should think themselves into the position of a person with quite a different experience to their own. Alternatively, find a short interview schedule from another project on a non-sensitive research topic and use that.

Now begin to interview your partner, working your way through your interview schedule. However, your task is to break as many rules of good interviewing as possible without being too extreme. For example, you might allow your attention to be distracted by something or someone other than the interviewee for a short time. You might paraphrase an answer that they give but in a way that shows you were not really listening to them or you did not understand what they were saying. You might interrupt them and say something like ‘Ah, the same sort of thing happened to me’ or ‘to a friend of mine’ and then proceed to tell them all about that. You might convey a judgmental reaction to something that they say (‘That wasn’t very wise, was it?’). Be creative but not too extreme.

Then reverse the roles that so you play the interviewee while your partner interviews you using their interview schedule, following the guidance specified above.

When you have done that, reflect upon your experience:

  • As an interviewee, how did it feel not to be listened to, attended to or understood, and/or to feel that you were being judged?
  • What effect did that have on your sense of comfort in the interview?
  • What effect did it have on your willingness to share and elaborate your views or experiences?
  • As an interviewer, how did it feel not to listen or attend in a meaningful way? How did it feel to judge the interviewee?
  • What have you learned from this exercise that could help develop your rapport skills as an interviewer?