I find the use of “acknowledgment” in a personal history interview one way to build rapport with my interviewee. It’s a particularly effective technique after you’ve been told a touching story.
Imagine you’ve just listened to a charming recounting of a woman’s first dance date. She ends by saying, “Oh, it was so much fun!” You could remark, “Yes, it sounds delightful.” But even better would be to say something like:
I can sense that. When you described picking out the blue dress you wore, your initial nervousness about how you looked, your handsome date, and the great music, I could see from the glow on your face that this was a very special event. It’s wonderful that you still have such a vivid recollection of it.
By briefly summarizing what you heard and letting your subject know that you appreciate and understand her, you’re using “acknowledgment” and fostering trust.
But “acknowledgment” can do so much more. This pause to acknowledge your interviewee’s anecdote is also the perfect point to inject a more probing question. For example , continuing with the illustration above, you could say:
…It’s wonderful that you still have such a vivid recollection of it. So what do recall about your date that didn’t work out so well?
Your interviewee might have nothing to add. On the other hand your question might unlock a really interesting story.
If you feel there’s a need to move your interviewee along to another topic, acknowledgment can provide a natural break. For example:
…It’s wonderful that you still have such a vivid recollection of it. I’d like to turn our attention now to your family life when you were a teenager. I know you were an only child. What did you miss about not having siblings?
Acknowledging what you have just heard before changing course in the interview makes your interviewee feel listened to and recognized. And as a result the person is more willing to allow you to steer the interview in another direction.
Like any technique, you don’t want to overuse “acknowledgment”. But I find it’s a valuable tool to have in my interview kit bag.
Photo by Jesse Garrison
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