How to salvage a “bad” user interview

You’ve formulated excellent questions, created the perfect interview guide, and practiced your “why”s. So why does this interview feel like it’s tanking?

Talisa Chang
Oct 14, 2015 · 4 min read

No matter how prepared you are, not every user you speak to is going to be a forthcoming, hyper-articulate interviewee with a perfect recollection of his daily tasks and insightful, fully-formed thoughts about why he does the things he does.

It doesn’t mean you can’t learn from him. But you may need to adjust your approach. Here’s how to course-correct when you feel like an interview is going off track:

1. When it feels like you’re pulling teeth

(Yes. I don’t know. Umm…)

  • Keep them confident. Remind them there are no wrong answers and that you’re just the researcher — they can’t offend you.

2. When you’re talking to a people pleaser

(Everything’s great! This is awesome!)

  • Encourage honesty. Remind them you didn’t make it. “You won’t hurt my feelings”

3. When they’ve got an axe to grind

(Everything sucks.)

  • Let them vent. Be sure to time-box it.

4. When they’re a little spacey

(Yeah… well… so, last time… that must have been… uh… March… my sister was in town, and…)

  • Remind them of the overall objective (mentioned at beginning of interview) and why their opinion is so valuable.

5. When they’re not your target user

(I don’t have a smartphone. I never XYZ. That’s someone else’s job on my team.)

  • Don’t force it. Their answers will unhelpful and even misleading.

6. When they start solutioning

(You should make an app that…It would be awesome if…)

  • Ask why. Not just once! Keep asking why until you’ve gotten to the heart of the problem.

7. When you have no idea what they mean


  • Repeat what they said verbatim and pause.

8. When you have a million follow-up questions

(Talking so fast! So many nuggets!)

  • Don’t interrupt them (even if it’s tempting!)

Have more tips and tricks? Leave a comment, tweet @talisa or shoot me an email:

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