Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Interviewing with Empathy

Interviewing with Empathy can be one of the more challenging Design Thinking skills to learn. One method is to observe someone else who knows how to do it, but I recently came across the web page of an organization that appears to have been polishing their empathic listening skills since the 1960's.

The Center for Nonviolent Communication emerged from work done by Marshall Rosenberg with civil rights activists, mediating between rioting students and college administrators and working to peacefully desegregate public schools.

There are four core principles in NVC;
  • Observation: Observing  of things which are seen, heard, or touched, without evaluation of their meaning or significance, and with a focus on specific to time and context.
  • Feelings are viewed as an indicator of whether we are experiencing our needs as met or unmet.  Identification of feelings is said to allow us to more easily connect with one another by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and helping resolve conflicts.
  • Needs: Universal human needs, as distinct from particular strategies for meeting needs. NVC states; "Everything we do is in service of... needs."
  • Requests are distinguished from demands in that one is open to a response of "no" without attempting to force the matter.  A "no" should also not lead to giving up. Solutions are found by empathically understanding what is preventing the other person from saying "yes." Requests should be stated in clear, positive, concrete action oriented terms. 
The core model of NVC represents two sides of an empathic conversation:
Empathetically Listening:
Honestly Expressing:
NVC is self-described as;

"With NVC we learn to hear our own deeper needs and those of others, and to identify and clearly articulate what “is alive in us”. When we focus on clarifying what is being observed, felt, needed, and wanted, rather than on diagnosing and judging, we discover the depth of our own compassion. Through its emphasis on deep listening—to ourselves as well as others—NVC fosters respect, attentiveness and empathy, and engenders a mutual desire to give from the heart. The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative."

Three unique tools of NVC are their Universal List of Feelings and associated lists of Satisfied and Unsatisfied Needs, which could be useful for developing the empathy maps of Design Thinking.

Some Useful Tips

Establish trust with participants
Create an atmosphere in which people feel comfortable enough to open up. 
  • Listen patiently. 
  • Do not interrupt. 
  • Allow for pauses. 
  • Give participants time to think. 
  • Use non-verbal gestures, such as eye contact, nodding, and smiling, to reassure participants you are engaged and interested in what they are saying. 

Get the most out of your interactions 
Encourage people to reveal what really matters to them. 
  • Ask participants to show you the object or space they are talking about, 
  • Have participants draw what they are talking about. 
  • Keep asking “Why?”, particularly in response to consecutive answers. 

Be on the lookout for;
Actions and statements which reveal what people care about. 
Keep in mind that they may contradict themselves!
  • Look for cues in the things that people surround themselves with or the way they carry themselves.
  • Notice any workarounds and adaptations people have done to make a system or tool serve their needs better, for example: Lowering the height of bulletin boards to make it easier for children to read them.
  • Explore things that prompt certain behaviors, for example: a line around a track field that causes people to run within a certain area.

Capture what you see
Take lots of notes and photos of what you see, hear, feel, smell and taste during a field visit. 

  • Capture direct quotes. 
  • Write down your immediate thoughts without worrying about an interpretation.
Here is an interesting graphic from ComLab India which illustrates how active empathic listening implies being aware of a blend of communication elements;

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