My parents raised me to be polite and nice. That meant keeping my mouth shut. I guess my decision to become a journalist was a form of revenge. After all, this is a job that allows me to ask lots of nosy questions and be direct.
But the more I work, the more I realize that it’s NOT about the questions. In fact, the fewer I ask, the more effective I am. A few strategically-placed remarks and questions are plenty. Whether we’re talking work or personal life, the more I shut up, the more I connect.
It’s called the art of conversation. I used to tell my journalism students that only rookies assault their interview subjects with a barrage of questions. Embarrassing!
And on the home front, the less I ask of my teen daughter, the more she sticks around to chat. (Although, I still don’t get that much out of her at this age.) Haha!
As for going out on job interviews, I know these tips are gold because my students tell me they’ve helped (and also work for me every time). If you can walk in there and create a confident discussion rather than answering questions like a scared mouse, then you become a candidate worth dealing with.
Here are my five tips for interviewing and developing good convo:
- Embrace the awkward silences: This one’s really hard — and super-powerful. No matter how squirmy I feel, shutting up is the way to go. At some point, the other person can’t take it and starts talking. Then things get interesting.
- Active listening is key: Passive listening means letting someone drone on and on. As an active listener, I’m trying to discern what the person cares about, what makes them tick. Then I steer in that direction as the gateway to connecting.
- The more I’m prepped, the better the conversation: When I have done the reporting to understand the interview subject’s world, we have context. I can ask less, yet learn more by framing informed questions and comments.
- Don’t expect to cover all the points in a single conversation: When I stop rushing people through both professional and personal interactions, everybody breathes. If there’s a once-in-a-lifetime encounter and I anxiously hit that person with a bunch of questions, watch him/her back away. Fail, every time.
- The fewer the questions, the more genuine the spark: I always told my journalism students that asking someone a question is a privilege, not a right. Instead, make statements — what I call the “statement question,” “non-question” or “silent question.” For instance, people hate it when I ask: “How old are you?” Instead, I’ll say: “I need to ask your age for this story, hope you don’t mind.”
If you want more specifics on interviewing, please check out my blog post on Top 10 Basic Interviewing Tips for Journalists.
And, here’s a bonus tip, one that’s really important…
I actually enjoy meeting people! Doesn’t matter what they look like, what they do for a living, or what we’re talking about. Human beings, by nature, are fascinating. And if we’re open to them, there’s always a meaningful moment to share. :)