May 31, 2015

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 questions are only a small part of interviewing. Actually, the less I ask, the more information I get out of people. A few strategically-placed remarks and questions are plenty. Whether we’re talking work or personal life, the more I get quiet and listen, the more I connect.

It’s called the art of conversation. Research by communication experts show that human do more listening than talking.

So as I matured as a journalist, I learned that assaulting interview subjects with questions only happens in badly-made movies. Meanwhile, on the home front, the less I ask 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!

The tips I’m about to share also work in job interviews. I know these tips are gold because my students tell me they’ve helped. They also definitely work for me every time).

When I can walk into a room and start a confident discussion rather than answering questions like a scared mouse, then I become more than a job candidate. I become a human being who is inviting another human to meet me eyeball to eyeball as equals.

Here are my five tips for interviewing and making conversation:

  • Embrace the awkward silences: This one’s really hard — and super-powerful. No matter how squirmy I feel, breathing calmly and sitting quietly the way to go. At some point, the silence usually becomes too much for the other person. This is when they start talking. From here, 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: Research is essential. 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.
  • We might need more than one conversation: Interviews involve trust and time. I used to rush through them because I had so many questions and points to cover. Now, I realize that everybody needs space to breathe and reflect. This is true even if the interview or conversation seems like a once-in-a-lifetime encounter — hitting people with a bunch of questions kills the mood. They back away. Fail, every time.
  • The fewer the questions, the more genuine the spark: I always tell my journalism students that asking someone a question is a privilege, not a right. Instead, I encourage them to make statements — what I call the “statement question,” “non-question” or “silent question.” For instance, I’ll just say, “I would love to know how you felt about that.” From here, the person can choose to respond or skip over to something else. I have given them the power to move at their own pace.

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! Human beings, by nature, are fascinating. And if we’re open to them, there’s always a meaningful moment to share.   :)