Posts tagged “asking”

Local norms for listening vs. telling

Fieldwork transcripts are divvied up among team members

Over a few days spent reviewing interview transcripts from the US and China, I was struck by the observations around storytelling vs. listening vs. followup questions in Returning to America from a life in China (abstract only)

[I]n the States, I often had trouble responding to personal stories. But soon I realized that it didn’t make much difference what I said. Many Americans were great talkers, but they didn’t like to listen. If I told somebody in a small town that I had lived overseas for fifteen years, the initial response was invariably the same: “Were you in the military?” After that, people had few questions. Leslie and I learned that the most effective way to kill our end of a conversation was to say that we were writers who had lived in China for more than a decade.

At the times, the lack of curiosity depressed me. I remembered all those questions in China, where even uneducated people wanted to hear something about the outside world, and I wondered why Americans weren’t the same. But it was also true that many Chinese had impressed me as virtually uninterested in themselves or their communities. That was one of the main contrasts with Americans, who constantly created stories about themselves and the places where they lived. In a small town, people asked very little of an outsider – really, all you had to do was listen.

Mike Tyson and the Power of Holding Your Tongue

The 2008 documentary Tyson by James Toback is a compelling and revealing work. From a technical perspective, it’s a fun watch because Toback experiments with visual fragmenting and layered storytelling styles. In terms of subject matter, one would be hard-pressed to find a juicier, more tabloid-soaked figure to focus on, especially for those of us who came of age in the 80s. I walked away from the film with a much more nuanced and complex, though still ambivalent, view of Mike Tyson as a powerhouse boxer, as a convergent cultural figure, and, finally, as a very complicated human being.

But there was one moment that stood out, and it hammered home the incredible power of a simple interviewing technique: silence. At one point about mid-way through the film, Tyson was yammering in a very straightforward way about the fact that his desire to box and dominate stemmed from his being bullied as a young boy (predictable!). Toback must have sensed something simmering just below the surface, because when Tyson finished this train of thought Toback just let it sit. And sit. And sit. As the audience sits. And sits. Until Tyson looks back up with a completely different expression, almost with a different personality, and bares the real, brutal truth. It’s a moment when time kind of stops; I gasped out loud. It’s this kind of thrilling moment that we experience in our best interviews, when the person (“consumer!”) goes beyond just citing facts or recounting stories, to communicating to us, and our clients, something surprising, something of real value and meaning.

If you liked this interview tip, you’ll love this: Steve will be talking about his interviewing secrets at the UIE virtual seminar on the 28th of this month!

Learn the art of asking questions in Steve Portigal’s UIE Virtual Seminar

On January 28, I’ll be presenting a UIE Virtual Seminar entitled Deep Dive Interviewing Secrets.

Steve Portigal will show your team the art of asking the question. You might visit the user in their office or home, have them come to you for a usability test, or even have a chance encounter at a trade show or while waiting for an airplane. Do you know what to ask? Do you know what to listen for, to extract the critical detail of what they can tell you about your design?

Steve will help you prepare your team for any opportunity, be it formal user research or less structured, ad-hoc research. He’ll also give you tips on how to work with your stakeholders and executives, who may also be meeting potential customers and users, so they know what to ask and how to listen-integrating their efforts into the research team. (Wouldn’t it be great if they understood why you’re doing what you’re doing?)

I’ve also put together this quick preview to get you more of a sense of what I’m going to cover.

Sign up here for this informative event!

Update: Use promotion code CHITTAHCHATTAH to get lifetime free access to the recording after the fact (normally a separate cost)


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