Qualitative interviewing: unlocking doors and leaving a string behind

People expression is based on their own experiences from their past, their feelings about the present and their expectations about the future. Because of that, everything they say is biased.

But in a qualitative interview, you can’t just try to get rid of that bias. If you do, you may well position yourself to read basic evidence and run into the polarized trap or the yes/no world and potentially be stuck in the room and not dive within what can be a great qualitative interview: An opportunity to learn what is there, hidden, to access the sources of pains and gains, the motivators and the conditions that changes values and creates feelings.

Using the locked rooms metaphor, let’s get into the trip:

The outside door — emotions and the engaging conversation

You should engage in a deep qualitative conversation because the connection with the interviewee is the premise to understand the person’s feelings. This is the same as saying that once you engage, you are in a better position to start understanding the interviewee’s roots for their pains and gains, actually, how they express value shifts.

The room of evidences — their own way to express

As much as you want evidence-based you want to be far from that world of yes/no or the happy/sad. Think of your initial questions keys leading to rooms of opportunities.

Think of yourself in a quest for potential root causes and don’t block the changes by interpreting and judging what one believe is an evidence. Allow yourself into the trip but do it together. In a qualitative interview, you are not a photographer that is hidden or an opportunistic catcher waiting for a signal and to ignore the interviewee as soon as you get it.

Instead, it’s more like a trip together where the participant may eventually allow both of you to arrive into special moments: When they unleash strong opinions about something that they have a thought about it — a prior thought.

Reading signs — disconnected from judgement

Learn to detect situations ant not judge beforehand too quickly, such as to try to push them in one direction or to manipulate the situation. You should be able to go follow along reading signs. Beware when the interviewee is designing or flushing — make annotations about their mode of expression:

  • Flushes of Experience: They may offer snapshot that comes with experience, like an assessment done priorly. This is flushing. It can be intense, like a situation when the interviewee is vomiting stuff to you. Learn The interviewee is vomiting stuff and this is prior experience dumped on-the-fly.
  • Designing on-the-fly: If you feel that the interviewee is coming up with the feeling in real-time, as they talk with you; that is a good remark to make as well. Perhaps the interviewee is designing the solution here? Not a problem, you don’t have to interrupt now. Just make a quick note or drawing noting it.

Things can get difficult because the world is not black or white, between flushing to designing. The art is about getting used to it and to be able to detect, so later you can asses the mode that matters to what.

From flushes to the deep dive

As you master noting, and as you get better in not spoiling the flow, then you can start to allow yourself into the greatest opportunities. In general, a typical qualitative customer development interview may take advantage of the situations referred as Flushes of Experiences, such as when the interviewee is vomiting gut-based feelings.

But again, that is just another key.

From that very initial key, like/dislike or yes/no or happy/sad; now you are at another room and these gut-feeling flush can drive you to the pipes. In the root world you finally arrive at spaces that can be quite calming, because they are more like truths — they feel calm because they are not much aligned like biased emotions. Instead these are conditions, situations, the environment, the context, the moment.

Returning from the voyage

As you return from the trip, you then connect the root causes to how people express their feelings and emotions. The goal is never to get rid of the language at the surface. What you want is to have connections. Some of the initial keys will have connections with roots that makes sense; while others won’t and it’s fine. The analysis for an interview is always something else anyway — another story.

Can you get a feeling of your job? Your job, in the path for customer discovery professionalism, is to become a master in mapping out evidences, causes, and conditions. It’s your job to be okay with biased feelings and to know that people expression is modeled after their own lives.

In a qualitative interview, all biases are in fact the greatest door to understand more what is behind; and, the efficiency in the art will depend on how good you are to develop the conversation, or to allow the triggers for deepest voyage.