Strategies for redirecting interviews
July 4, 2012 4:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for strategies and tips you use to interrupt, re-direct and control interviews with chatty folk.

In structured interviews where time is important, I find I am terrible at controlling the flow of the interview with chatty participants. I am hesitant to appear rude or damage rapport, so I try not to interrupt even when I am frustrated and running behind. How can I interrupt people in a nice way, and gain more control over the interview flow?
posted by mossicle to Human Relations (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You just start out the interview by explaining what you hope to achieve and warning them that you will probably try to stay on track.

Then, during the interview you say something like, "Wow, that's fascinating, but we need to get back on track."

In order to make them feel as though they are being heard, and that you value what they are saying, no matter how chatty, try active listening and reflective speaking.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:45 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Are you talking about job interviews or press-type interviews?
posted by restless_nomad at 4:46 PM on July 4, 2012

I'm talking about patient interviews.
posted by mossicle at 4:55 PM on July 4, 2012

"Interesting! And I hope we get a chance to follow that up sometime, but for now we need to get back on topic..."
posted by trip and a half at 5:09 PM on July 4, 2012

Or what KokuRyu said.
posted by trip and a half at 5:09 PM on July 4, 2012

Try interjecting a yes or no question, or a question that permits a one-word answer. Then use the break after their answer to redirect.

The timing is important because if you wait, they'll spin off in another direction. Remaining silent is normally a good tactic to draw out reticent interviewees, but in this case you don't want to leave an opening. Acknowledge the answer but then immediately continue.

It's also important that this question not be random. Something that communicates interest and is relevant to their story but that just happens to be yes/no.
posted by Jeff Howard at 5:22 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, KokoRyu's got it. My therapist started off my very first visit by saying something similar to this: "My name is ____ and I am very happy to meet you. I like to start out this informational interviews with a few guidelines so we're both on the same page about the purpose of this initial meeting. In general, this session is our first opportunity to understand your needs as a patient so that we can figure out whether or not I will be a good fit for you as a therapist/doctor/etc. As such, I will be asking you questions that are designed to help me get a good sense of your profile as a possible patient/client, but in the interest of time I will likely not delve too deep into anything as that would be better in a full, regular session. Please know this is not because I don't want to hear about anything that may come up for you as we discuss your history; it's more that I want to make sure we are a good fit before moving into in-depth sessions. Do you have any questions before we get started?"

Then if your client gets off track, you can say something like, "My apologies, I want to make sure we get as holistic a profile as possible today. Can we return to this topic in our next session?"

It was a good fit for me, as I was out of my mind with anxiety that day and it helped me structure my responses so I didn't become a chatterbox.
posted by Hello Darling at 5:26 PM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

KokoRyu has a good answer.

This may depend on the type of interview, but for the type of long, detailed, semi-structured interview I do regularly with research participants, I find myself pretty often resorting to "That's really interesting [funny, sad, whatever]. I think we're probably going to touch on that for a later question, so I'm going to stop you there and we'll come back to it later, okay?" Then I make a note of it - because often I *do* want to come back to it later, often the person is just elaborating on something I know I'm going to ask. I let them know during the initial intro to the interview that I may do that, so they won't be surprised or upset when it happens, and it usually works out fine.
posted by Stacey at 5:52 PM on July 4, 2012

Personally, I would be rather off put by KokoRyu's answer if I were paying you for your time.

In other words, If you tell me that I am "off track" or suggest that the time I'm paying for needs to follow your "track" or "direction", I would not be very inclined to see you again. I generally believe that I should get to decided what I do or don't want to talk about as a patient much (not all obviously) of the time.

Having said that, I think that Hello Darling's response. Basically "this is not an actual session, it's a question answer period to get to know each other. I won't be cutting you off in the future, and I do care what you have to say."
posted by Shouraku at 7:45 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

"That's an excellent point you've made - we might be able to return to it a bit later on if we've got time - can we just go back to..."
posted by heyjude at 3:21 AM on July 5, 2012

I really struggle with this when talking with patients (are you a clinician-person, or...?). if you're not seeing patients on problem visits, the following stuff may not apply well to you.

I try to start open-ended with questions if I can, then hone it down quickly to closed-ended questions based on symptoms/complaints. or, hopefully, the MA/nurse has already gotten their c/c and recent symptoms and so you can just start open-ended questions on more specific symptoms.

Responses I try to use when something comes up that DOES need extra talking: "that's a really important blah blah you're bring up. I'd really like to schedule some time where we can really talk and work on that." or something to that effect. really try to reinforce that you really appreciate them sharing that topic/problem, but we need to focus on their chief complaint in this visit, or whatever they're really in for. it helps people feel like they've been heard, even if you can't talk about that topic right now.

if you work with other folks, and it's a pressing issue that really does need addressing right then and there, you can also ask another provider if they have the time to see your next appt, assuming it's going to be a straightforward one. it can be hard to tease apart who is just genuinely chatty cathy/complaining about everything not relevant from the person whose has a history that's in depth but also completely pertinent.

anyway, not sure what your setting is, so this advice may not be helpful in the slightest. good luck! this is a skill I really struggle with, as an also very chatty person! this is a hard skill.

make sure to use body language and cues that reflect active listening, to try and counteract the fact that yeah, you're re-directing the conversation. body posture and appropriate back channeling will take you a long ways to remediate things and help people feel heard.

i often use a piece of paper to take notes (or, um, doodle) while they're talking, i think it gives the impression that, well, i'm really trying to pay attention (i am!) to their story, and it lets me re-direct conversations a little more easily by looking like i'm clarifying notes i've taken.

One of my preceptors told me some really good advice the other day when you're struggling (because you want to be respectful to the patient! and allow them to tell you their story, since sometimes it's so hard to tease out wtf is really going on/needs to be addressed) is to keep in mind that you're also being disrespectful to waiting patients' time by being late to see them. this sort of helps me feel less like a douchebag when I'm re-directing conversations, which then helps me actually work on politely re-directing conversations.

also, are you female? frankly, a lot of this is female socialization (don't interrupt, be nice, be pleasant, don't potentially annoy people) that takes some acknowledgement and working around. this is really an acquired skill.
posted by circle_b at 11:10 AM on July 5, 2012

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