Throughout my career in UX, I’ve gotten more and more involved in conducting user research. In the beginning of my career, I sat on the viewing side of the glass. For about a year or two now, I’ve had opportunities to moderate research myself. It’s more difficult than I imagined.

My brother, Steve Lange, is the editor and an amazing journalist that leads the Rochester Magazine in Minnesota. Steve has had great success in his years and years (he is my older brother) and years and years of interviewing people with interesting stories. He has a series of articles called “10 or so questions” that is very well done.

Recently, we were discussing interview tactics. I wasn’t shocked, but I was excited to hear many similarities between journalistic interviews and how we conduct user interviews in the UX world.

Here are 5 tips for conducting great interviews:

Tip 1: Do your research. Know as much as you can about the topic so that you can ask truly insightful and thought-provoking questions. Come to the interview with many questions, but don’t let the questions drive the conversation. Let the conversation drive the conversation.

Tip 2: Record your interview. Steve admits to having illegible handwriting and slow typing speed. However, the main point here—It is important to have a conversation with the person rather than be taking furious notes. According to my brother, “It’s like a good first date conversation.” I really like my sister-in-law, so I’ll take his word for it on that one.

Tip 3: The Power of the Pause. This technique is very important in user research and apparently something my brother also uses in his journalistic practice. You ask a question. The other person answers. You pause. … still pausing … the now slightly uncomfortable pause continues. In most causes, the interviewee will feel compelled to say something more. Some of the best information comes after the pause.

“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause” – Mark Twain

Tip 4: Listen. Sounds obvious. Let me tell you a story so you can test your listening skills.

A few years ago, my husband and I went snorkeling. I’m not a huge fan of sea-life. I’m also not the strongest swimmer. When I put my head under water for the first time, I could hear the sounds of my own deep breaths and heart beating. It was like a horror movie. A school of fish swam by and one of them grazed my leg. I’m embarrassed to say I freaked out and quickly paddled back to the boat. It was the second scariest moment in my life!

How’d you do? Do you feel like you are a good listener?

Tip 5: Ask great follow-up questions. If you were following tip #4, you should have a follow-up question to my snorkeling story. “What was the scariest moment in your life?”

The Key Takeaway

Whether you are doing user research for a product, interviewing someone for a job, or interrogating your sister’s boyfriend, learn what it takes to execute a successful Q & A session. You’ll uncover things you didn’t expect.

There are many more tips to conducting great interviews. Here are a few resources that I enjoy:

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