Listening looks easy, but it's not simple. Every head is a world

Thanks to my adventures with Future Gov I have spent the last couple of weeks visiting new places and meeting new people. The official term for this activity is called 'Contextual Interviews' but I think of it as a conversation that is dependent on me being a really good listener.  I echo what the team at Engine think about this:

"The researcher has the sensitive challenge of conducting an interview without it seeming to be an interview, but rather a chat where questions and answers are exchanged in both directions. The best way to do this is to avoid taking notes (occasionally skirting off to the toilet to write them down before you forget!)."

We all admire those who know how to talk to people, or have the innate ability to easily engage in a conversation even in an unfamiliar gathering. I suppose some people believe that you are born with the natural ability to talk to people or you have what is called the gift of the gab.

However, the ability to talk or convey ideas whether in a small group or up on stage before a large audience is not an innate ability but an acquired skill. It can be learned, enhanced, and perfected. All you need are the right information and the determination to do it.

This got me thinking about the students and young designers out there who interview people as part of their research.. there isn't really any information directed at how to interview as part of the design / co-design / co-creation process. I do believe it is a special skill and you have to practice and learn it.

Here are some tips that were top of my list:

  • Be presentable
  • Think about it before hand
  • Be respectful
  • Look them in the eye
  • Turn your phone off
  • Listen
  • Establish rapport
  • Be positive
  • Smile

There is a nice little video from the IIT Institute of Design who believe ethnography and interviewing are how we, as designers, see the world through other people's eyes and get them to tell us their stories.

[vimeo 1269848 w=500 h=282]

Getting People to Talk: An Ethnography & Interviewing Primer from Gabe & Kristy on Vimeo.

Redjotter's Superhero Task

Dear readers, By some stoke of luck you have been given a special superpower. You now have the gift of telekinesis ( the ability to put your thoughts into another person's mind). You can transmit your thoughts to anyone of any group of people - maybe it is everyone in your town, your village, or the world, or maybe it is just your friends. The only catch is you can only use the power three times.


So what three things do you want to put into other people's heads?

Here are my three:

1. I think you should write a little bit every day

2. Eat more, read more and sleep more

3. Every morning we have twenty four brand new hours to live!

Inspired by the wonderful explorations of Keri Smith

This will only be worthwhile if we all join in! Tell me your thinks :)

How Talk can change lives?

I have just finished reading this book written by Theodore Zeldin.

This little book is delightful and insightful. Basically the book is about the importance of conversation in our lives. It explains how conversation is at the root of creativity; how it is better than laws in helping to change our mind-sets and how it can make life more interesting, friendly or passionate.

Reading it has stimulated conversation itself and my thinking about how and why we talk. These lines got me thinking..

  • "Conversations on the border line of what I understand and what I don't"
  • "I look forward to being a part of a new conversation."
  • "We still have so much to learn in the art of communication."
  • "What job offers the most enchanting and surprising conversations?"
  • "Our education is not complete until we have held a conversation with every continent."
  • Conversation has to explore new territory to become an adventure.

It is up to us to decide on the kind of conversations we have... be aware that strangers are more inclined to listen.

Zeldin talks about The New Conversation.The author hopes the new century will be more adventurous. "What is missing from the world is a sense of direction, because we are overwhelmed by the conflicts which surround us. He suggests we start conversations to dispel that darkness, using them to create equality, to give ourselves courage, to open ourselves up to strangers, and most practially, to remake our working world."

"Help the young people to escape from the narrowness of specialist fields and give older people more opportunities to share their experience with the young, to counter the segregation of the generations and of knowledge."

"What can a letter do that a conversation can't?"

I think I would enjoy being a professional eavesdropper :)

p.s. I would be really glad if you were to tell me what you think. What would a map of your conversation look like?