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. This makes sense because communication research experts say that humans do more listening than talking.

I was discovering the art of conversation.

So as I matured as a human being and journalist, I learned that assaulting interview subjects with questions only happens in badly-made movies. Meanwhile, on the home front, life changed too. When I ask my daughter fewer questions, she sticks around more for chats.

The tips I’m about to share also work in job interviews. They are gold, according to my happy students swear by them. These skills also work for me because they free me from my fear of rejection and failure.


5 tips for interviewing and improving conversations

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 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.
  •  The more I’m prepped, the better the conversation: 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.
  • The fewer the questions, the more genuine the spark: 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.

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! Every single human being is interesting. Holding onto this outlook makes life meaningful.  :)