June 2, 2024



The more interviewing I do, the more realize that strong questions are key. But for the keys to the castle – to really set up a great interview – I need to limit the number of questions.

In fact, 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, being quiet and listening opens up powerful spaces.

Of course, this discovery makes sense. Communication research experts say that humans do more listening than talking. And, I was discovering key skills for human connection. I was learning the art of conversation.

The 5 keys I’m sharing here are useful in all types of situations, from job interviews to improving family relationships and friendships. These keys are gold, according to my happy students. And I believe these keys can unlock doors in your castle, too.


5 keys for great interviews & conversations


Embrace the awkward silences

This one’s really hard — and super-powerful. No matter how squirmy I feel, breathing calmly and sitting quietly is 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 while I tune them out. 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.


Preparation leads to better interviews

Research is essential. Doing the reporting helps me to understand my interview’s world. Once I have this context, I can frame better-informed questions and ask less. The less I ask, the more the interview feels like a conversation.


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. Trying to force the moment with too many questions is always a mood killer. This leads to fail, every time.


Fewer questions = better conversations

Asking questions is a privilege, not a right. Ask strategically. Use other tools, too, like making 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 interviewee has the power to decide, which often helps them to relax: Do they want to respond? Or, skip over to something else? They appreciate being able to move at their own pace.


Want to learn more about interviewing?

If you want more specifics on interviewing, please check out my blog post on Top 10 basic interviewing tips for journalists.

These tips will also take you far in real life!

Note: I first published this post on May 31, 2015. This is a nicer-looking version of the original.  :)