Picture this. You sit down to conduct a personal history interview. You pull out your voice recorder and your client looks stricken. You reassure her that there’s no need to worry and ask your first question. She looks at the floor and gives a brief two or three word response. It doesn’t get any better. It feels as though your “pulling teeth”. Beads of perspiration break out on your forehead. You finish the interview and leave for home tired and discouraged.
What went wrong?
Some of you will say it was the voice recorder that made the client uneasy. Nope! Not the recorder. Today’s devices are small and unobtrusive. There might be some initial discomfort but it passes – like gas. I’ve done hundreds of hours of interviews and within a few minutes people forget there’s even a recorder in the room. So don’t blame the recorder.
Sorry to say but the problem rests with the interviewer. If you’re not comfortable with the equipment or anxious about getting a good interview or worried about the questions you’re going to ask, then your anxiety is going to rub off on your client. Neuroscience research has uncovered “mirror neurons” which seems to indicate that if we see someone frowning or smiling, it triggers a similar internal reaction in us.
In a word the #1 secret to a successful interview is rapport. Here’s what you need to do.
before the interview, Make your initial visit a “get-to-know” .
Nothing creates more anxiety in a client than rushing in all “business-like”, ready to record. Take an hour to have a conversation with your client. Stress the personal. Imagine you’re dropping in on a favorite aunt or uncle. Do talk about the upcoming interview but spend as much time if not more on small talk. I try to get a quick sense of people’s interests by looking at how they’ve decorated and what treasures they’ve chosen to display. A question about a painting, photo, or figurine can unlock some charming stories. And it puts your client at ease. Find something in common – maybe it’s grandchildren, a favorite author, or similar childhood roots.
Arrive for the interview rested, mindful, Focused, and calm.
Remember that clients will pick up on your anxiety. This in turn makes them anxious. When you walk through the door to a client’s home, you want to be smiling and aware of what is happening from moment to moment. To do that effectively, you need to be rested and focused solely on the interview at hand. How does your client look? How are you feeling? What extraneous activities or sounds are intruding on your interview space?
Before the interview begins, start with some small talk.
I never set up my recorder or camera for an interview without first engaging my client in some small talk. It can be about the weather, their day or week’s activities, or any other subject that’s informal. I find a sense of humor and some laughter go a long way to defuse anxiety. I’m also mindful that we’ve a job at hand and I don’t let the chatting eat up too much time.
Set up the recording equipment with Practiced nonchalance.
Don’t make setting up your recording equipment a “big production”. The more I consciously avoid flailing about with my recorder and microphone, the less distressing it is for my client. This means you have to know your equipment superbly. It’s not the time to begin fretting over what folder you’re recording in or why you’re not getting sound in your headphones. It also helps to keep some chit-chat going while you clip on a lavaliere mic and adjust the sound levels.
rapport. that’s the secret.
What techniques do you use to build rapport?
Photo by Chickpea