Getting Interview Subjects to Talk More

What do you do when you’re interviewing someone, and everything is going swimmingly until you realize that the same answers keep coming out and they’re about 5 words each?

Some people just like to talk more than others – I know I tend to be on the quiet side myself. I’d probably be a terrible interview subject.

So how could someone draw me out without annoying me by asking the same questions over and over?

You’ll need to establish a level of comfort with the subject. This can be very difficult when you’re speaking to them over the phone, especially with all the obligatory things you’ll need to say like “Is it ok if I record this conversation?”

When you first call them up greet them, thank them, and bring up some sort of icebreaker topic. Once you think they’re speaking fluidly you can get started with the real questions.

If they give you a short, blase answer, try asking “Could you tell me a little more about that?”

Elaborate on what they say, paraphrase their answers back to them, and see if that sparks more comments from them.

What suggestions do you have for this problem?

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2 comments so far

  1. Trista Meehan on

    Great post– I have some additional suggestions…

    1)Approach the interview with *genuine* interest and warmth– after all, they have important stuff to tell you!

    2)Try not to sound like you’re reading from a script (even if you are)– make your questions sound personal and conversational.

    3) Mimic their tone, mannerisms, mood. This is especially important with introverts– don’t overwhelm them by being overly boisterous, etc.

    4) Ask open (not yes or no)questions. Show that you’re listening (take notes, cock your head, “hmmm..”) and follow with additional probing questions to encourage more conversation.

    5) Know when to cut your losses–I’ve only had to do this once, but you may get a participant who doesn’t want to talk, period. I ended this painful session by wrapping up early.

  2. jasonwilkens on

    Great comment, thank you!


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