Question to Story

There are two key skills I am keen to improve as a user researcher – questioning and listening. I will focus on the latter in a future post.

My job involves asking a lot of questions of internal stakeholders and research participants. Anybody can ask questions. The true skill is the ability to ask the right questions that generate insights.

This is why the quote above resonates with me, especially when interviewing research participants. I don’t always facilitate the transition from question-to-answer to a question-to-story in all my interviews. This is usually because  I am trying to extract as much information from an interview due to time constraints. Most of my interviews with time-poor teachers tend to occur during school hours.

The transition between the two phases {Q-A to Q-S} requires using well-timed follow-ups and the willingness to embrace the pregnant pause. This embrace requires the interviewer to handle the uncomfortableness of silence after the participant’s answer.

The interviewer’s instinct is to rush to the next question after getting an answer. Participants should be given just enough time to fill the silence. They will let you if they have nothing to say.  People speak in paragraphs according to Portigal and they want your permission to go on to the next paragraph. The interviewer’s silence permits them the freedom to do this.

Most people are not skilled storytellers and their stories will usually be unpolished. But there are nuggets in those unpolished stories.  Like Portigal said the richest insights are in stories, not answers.

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