10 Qualities for Qualitative Researchers | Storybrand Consulting

Read this article at: Quirk's Marketing Research Review

Qualitatively Speaking: Ten qualities for qualitative researchers

Published in the June 2004 issue

From making a good first impression with respondents to being good listeners, effective moderators must possess these 10 traits.

Editor's note: Tom Neveril is founder of Storybrand Consulting, a Los Angeles research firm.

To make sure a focus group or one-on-one interview goes as smoothly as possible, a qualitative researcher needs to have a range of skills. Here is a brief look at 10 of them.

1.   They Make a Good First Impression
The first few seconds are especially critical when meeting an interviewee. It is at this point that the interviewee is most uncertain about the interview; how to participate, how to behave and how to avoid conflict or ‘failure.’ To answer these questions, the interviewee relies upon the reciprocity principle: we naturally attempt to repay in kind what has been provided for us. In other words, the interviewee is giving the interviewer permission to establish the tone of the interview.

Effective interviewers take advantage of reciprocity principle, by giving the interviewee 100% of their attention, making eye contact and smiling. They avoid studying the discussion guide, tinkering with stimulus material, talking with facility staff or appearing aloof in any way. This clearly communicates the expected tone for the interview and leads to reciprocated engagement and enthusiasm.

2.   They’re Upfront about Intentions and Expectations
As soon as an interview begins, effective interviewers immediately address the questions that are usually swirling around in the minds of the interviewee(s). One might call it “Answering the who, what and why” of the interview. For example, an effective interviewer might start a typical focus group this way:

“Hello and welcome… Thank you for taking the time to participate in this important research project. My name’s _______. I’m an independent market researcher. And I’ve been hired by a company that’s interested in gathering your opinions about some products and services, which I’ll talk more about in a minute… We’re meeting in a group like this so I can hear when you agree, disagree or just think differently about what’s being discussed. After the group, I’ll write a report based on your honest, candid input. And that report will help the client company better serve their customers. So that’s why we’re here. Any questions so far?”

3.   They Create Comfort
Occasionally, focus group/interviewing facilities can be unpleasant. The problems generally involve unhelpful service staff, untidy rooms, uncomfortable furniture or poor food quality/options. However, I’ve found that most interviewees will forgive nearly all of the above, if they see the interviewer attempting to create comfort.

An effective interviewer will always openly address the issue of comfort. If there are problems, they shouldn’t try to ignore or hide them. Problems can be viewed as an opportunity to create an alliance with the interviewee(s). And even when the atmosphere is great –as it often is—the interviewer should make sure basic human needs are satisfied: They should announce permission to use the bathroom and make urgent phone calls when necessary (and without notice during focus groups). They should adjust temperature, seating and lighting to democratically maximize comfort. And they should always offer beverages and snacks. Those have a consistently positive effect.

Most importantly, they should always ask what can be done to make the experience more pleasant.   Most people are generally willing to ignore distractions –except for something that threatens their safety. (For example, a few years ago I learned that an ice storm can make a group exceedingly unproductive –especially after the power goes out.) The key, again, is to demonstrate an interest in interviewee comfort. When that happens, interviewees will reciprocate by demonstrating an interest in the interviewer’s needs.

4.   They Use Regular Language
Interviewees will open up and share their personal stories only if they feel they’re being understood. If an interviewer is talking in “company-speak” or excessively using industry jargon, the interviewee will invariably assume that the interviewer is at least one of the following: (a) overtly trying to demonstrate a high degree of savvy or intellect, (b) incapable of regular language, or (c) avoiding regular language because it is somehow inappropriate for the interview. Of course, in any of those cases, the interviewee will generally respond by avoiding the language of deeply personal or emotional territory.

One excellent way to evoke personal and richly emotional language is to demonstrate a respect for the interviewee’s selection of words. This is done through the reiteration of their quotes verbatim –including the non-verbal elements, if possible. For example, when the interviewee has landed on a particularly important –or even just very personal—phrase, it should be written down. The interviewee should see this. And when they’ve completed their thought, it should be read it back to them, just as they originally delivered it. Then they should be asked to make sure it’s been recorded correctly. In the end, this process increases enthusiasm for the interview and garners more respect for interviewer’s words as well.

5.   They Request Stories
Interviewee stories are an efficient way to uncover insights about brands. First of all, stories are the building blocks for creating memory and finding meaning in life. Secondly, they are the most natural way for people to communicate both rational and emotional ideas simultaneously.   And lastly, stories are actually very efficient in conveying vast amounts of information through their characterizations, tempo, tone and structure.

6.   They Self-Disclose to Encourage Self-Disclosure
The interviewer should carefully take advantage of opportunities to create a self-disclosure dynamic. This is not to suggest that he/she should share personal views about the discussion topic. Rather, it means the interviewer should speak from the heart when explaining an exercise or providing examples to stir reaction.   These moments of sincerity involve a small but important extension of trust which will often be reciprocated.

7.   They Use Silence
Effective interviewers know that silence is a powerful tool for evoking responses. It demonstrates respect, patience and a sincere interest in hearing what the interviewee has to say. Most importantly, it gently prods an interviewee to keep “digging.” And that digging may result in a personal story, a human truth and a breakthrough idea.

8.   They Watch and Listen to Everything
Interviewers should demonstrate that they are giving their complete attention. This will lead to a richer discussion, causing interviewees to be more expressive verbally and nonverbally –through body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, etc. Also, by paying attention to conversational flow and tenor, it may reveal the critical undertones or unconscious thoughts that are so important in brand communication.

9.   They Connect the Dots on the Fly
In other words, the interviewer should identify the consistent and/or contradictory thoughts throughout the interview. Not only does it demonstrate and inspire engagement, but it provides the opportunity to mine richer subject areas and depart from those that have been ‘tapped out.’

10.   They Have Fun
Intense discussions need moments of comedic relief to release some pressure and to allow participants to refocus and re-energize.