Recommended ReadsAugust 1st, 2023

Unlocking your research impact through effective listening

We work in the design of social sector services and products and this often involves talking with people about sensitive topics. We design our approaches to research to be compassionate, safe and caring. Ensuring that we are listening well is crucial to this.

"The most fundamental technique for being a good interviewer is active listening"
-DeWalt and DeWalt

In qualitative research, interviewing is one of the most relied-upon research methods. It's noted that there is an overlap between qualitative interviewing and therapy due to the experience of being listened to.

In my previous career as a counsellor, listening is a key skill. It features within workshops and training programs yet it fails to present when developing research practitioner skills. Instead, it focuses on crafting questions and selecting analysis methods. The quality of information gained depends on the moment-to-moment interactions between the interviewer and interviewee – and listening is important in this.

Making people feel heard and valued can elicit a deeper exploration of experiences and sharing of information. In turn leading to better quality research data, and more useful insights.

Recall an experience where you felt listened to, how did you feel? How did you respond? Did it invite you to share more or share something more meaningful?

Listening is often assumed to be simple and easy to do, but to do it well is complex and takes ongoing practice. Active listening is an approach that has developed over time, and while there is variation in specific techniques involved, there is generally a focus on listening attentively and responding empathically. Below are some key skills:

Listen with interest

Being interested in what the other person is saying in itself demonstrates that you are paying attention.

One way to convey that you are listening, without interrupting, is through the appropriate use of minimal responses. These are small encouragers and can be verbal such as ‘Mm’, ‘Ah’, ‘I see’ ‘OK’. They can also be non verbal, like a nod of the head, and be aware of your facial expressions and the way you use eye contact.

Invitations to continue are also helpful. When someone pauses for a period, an invitation to continue can be useful, such as ‘Tell me more’ or ‘And then what happened…’

Reflect what you are hearing

Drawing out the details allows you to check your understanding and clarify what is being communicated.

Paraphrasing involves restating what has been said but slightly differently. It allows the interviewee to think about what they have said, and will often lead them to continue talking. It demonstrates that the interviewer is not only interested, but understanding.

Reflecting feelings is also a useful skill. It involves making a tentative statement about the emotional aspect of the experience.

Offer summaries

From time to time, it is useful to summarise key points given the amount of information being conveyed.

This could involve drawing key aspects together of the content and feelings shared by the interviewee. It helps to convey the bigger picture of what they are saying, allowing them to reflect on what they've shared. By doing so, it also offers the opportunity to correct the interviewer's perceptions.

When people feel heard and understood, they are more likely to be open and honest about their thoughts, feelings and experiences. This enables a more accurate understanding of what is being researched and the development of research findings that are impactful.

"Just to be heard is huge"
-Anderson and Henry

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