Interviewing without questions, eye contact or rapport
By Steve Portigal at 9:59 am, Friday May 03 2013

interviewing-users

Interviewing Users is now available. Get your copy here!

Here’s a really interesting project about How People Talk to Themselves in Their Heads.

He would ask them to wear a microphone headset attached to a digital recorder and speak aloud their thoughts as he followed closely behind with a camera. He would not be able to hear what they were saying…[The] videos are simultaneously naturalistic and as objective as possible. In the lab, in front of a researcher, people are often reluctant to reveal exactly what they are thinking. Writing a diary of inner speech is somewhat more private, but many people find it annoying to regularly drop everything and make an entry; sometimes it’s difficult to remember what one was thinking about even minutes earlier. In Irving’s videos people are living their lives more or less as usual, walking and talking to themselves as though they were unaccompanied. Of course, people who are not completely comfortable with the scenario sometimes speak into the microphone as though trying to entertain someone else. And getting people’s inner speech on tape captures only linguistic forms of thought, neglecting the kind of thinking that happens in images and scenes, for example.

The notion that unfettered, deeper self-exploration and self-expression can come when not interacting with the interrogator – to the point here of nearly eliminating the interrogation entirely – evokes the (I presume mostly obsolete) approach to therapy where the patient does not face the therapist.

I find the videos compelling (and voyeuristic to the extreme). Check out the other videos at the link – the ones that take place without the strolling seem more like a diary and less like a peek into the stream of consciousness. But for each of them, see if they pass the sniff-test for you: is the person talking the way they are because of the experiment (they know they are being recorded; they feel they need to come up with something to say, they are aware of their own “voice”, etc.) or is it really getting as deep as the researcher claims? I was mostly convinced but a sliver of doubt remains.

In the research we do, we make no claim of naturalism; we certainly want to direct and influence what is being shared, and we build rapport to facilitate openness and honesty. This approach isn’t likely to be appropriate for us, but it’s certainly provocative to look at the output of an opposite approach – where the interviewer is effectively absented and rapport is not a consideration.

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