Elysa’s War Story: Keep The Swiffer On Your Right
By Steve Portigal at 8:20 am, Monday November 12 2012
Part 35 of 58 in the series War Stories

Senior strategist Elysa Soffer heads into the field where an adventure in building rapport awaits.

She’s Caucasian, 75 years old, retired, married with 2 grown kids, lives in Berkeley, and cleans her floors 2¬¨4 times a week. This woman fits our qualifications as a participant for our research study. But you never know who you might be talking to and how best to get them to open up to you-a stranger entering their home.

Two of us spent a few hours interviewing this woman in her home for a floor cleaning study. We asked warm-up questions about her and her household. She mentioned that she was a writer and lived there with her husband. She showed us around her house, and pointed out the rooms where she spends the most time cleaning floors.

During the next part of the interview, she demonstrated her cleaning process and we asked her to test a few prototypes we brought along. She showed us everything from how she stores her tools, cleans, and puts everything away. It was as simple as that.

This was one of the last in-home interviews out of about a dozen conducted for this project. It went just as smoothly as the previous ones. We felt like we gathered insights. So, we asked our wrap-up questions and packed up. Once the video camera and recorder were off, we made small talk while heading to the door.

My research partner stopped next to the door to look at a handmade shrine-like structure sitting on a tchotchke shelf. It was made out of bones! Not fake Halloween-decoration bones, but real human-looking bones. We couldn’t resist, we had to ask.

The woman’s face lit up, and she was excited to tell us the story about her adventures visiting a tribe of cannibals in Africa. She explained that she published articles about this tribe and took many trips over the years to study their culture. She also pointed out how the shrine was made of animal, not human bones. To top it all off, she confessed that she “may” have been fed human during some of her expeditions there. Whoa!

We asked a few more questions about her adventures, but unfortunately we had to go. The vibe in the room had completely changed. She was enthusiastic and seemed more comfortable than she did for the previous few hours. Had we noticed the statue on the way in, would the interview had been different? If the camera was still on would she have reacted the same way?

Back in the car, I looked at the recruiter’s sheet again. Cannibal wasn’t listed anywhere. I wondered what secrets the previous floor cleaning participants hadn’t shared.

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