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Facilitating user interviews

Tips for facilitating user interviews

Video transcript

Build rapport

When you conduct an interview, it’s crucial that you are able to build rapport with your participants. People are more likely to talk and let their guard down if they feel relaxed. The quality of the interview and the data you collect will suffer if you are unable to earn a participant’s trust. While it might sound obvious you should: greet participants by their name, smile - since a positive mood is contagious, be friendly and initiate small talk before transitioning into your interview.

Let the participant do most of the talking

You should avoid talking about your own opinions. If you share too much of your own experiences, you risk influencing your participant’s answers. They will be less forthcoming and open if they disagree with your opinion, this may lead them to skew their answers and you’ll end up with inaccurate data.

Silence during interviews is sometimes hard to deal with. As tempting as it is to talk during these awkward moments, it’s actually better if you give participants the opportunity to fill these gaps.

Silence is a natural and important part of user interviews, it allows participants to pause and gather their thoughts. It gives them the sense that you’re waiting for them to say something and it usually encourages them to speak their thoughts out loud. By jumping in and filling that gap, you might interrupt a participant’s thoughts and miss out on a key insight.

Remain neutral while demonstrating empathy

Remaining neutral is something that takes most people a lot of practice. When a participant has experienced a difficult or frustrating situation, our natural instinct is to empathize with them. However, we need to act sympathetically without leading the participant or making assumptions.

For example: Imagine a DevOps Engineer tells you that he or she is responsible for incident management. They’ve had a rough week. They’ve been frequently woken up in the middle of the night to attend to incidents.

As an empathetic human being, your natural reaction may be something like: “That must have been really frustrating for you!” but that would be leading the participant. Instead, you could show some concern by asking the participant to elaborate: “Can you tell me more about that?”.

You could even try a question like “How did that make you feel?” but only if the user hasn’t already indicated how he or she felt. By asking a question that relates to the participants’ feelings, you can show that you are listening and that you empathize with their situation.

Be an attentive listener

Turn off your desktop notifications. Close down the million tabs that you have open and leave your phone in another room. It is crucial that you are not distracted during an interview.

Make the participant feel heard by nodding, looking at them directly through your camera and offering acknowledgments like “Hmm” and “I see”. Always let participants finish their thoughts. Do not interrupt them unless absolutely necessary.

The better we listen, the better data we can gather. Attentive listening is really important because participants take time out of their day to talk to us. It’s just plain good manners to give them our full attention and make them feel like they’re being heard.

Be curious

Even if you think you know the answer to a question - ask the question anyway. It’s not about what we know, it’s about trying to understand what the participant has to say on the subject. We need to be mindful of our own biases and assumptions and remain curious. Also, don’t assume participants wouldn’t know the answer to a question or will provide a poor response. Ask the question any way and see what they have to say.

Don’t lead users

A common concern that most people have when conducting user interviews is unintentionally leading a participant. If a participant says something that is unclear to you or that you want to follow-up on and you can’t quite find the right words on the spot. A simple technique is simply to repeat back what the participant has said with some intonation.

For example, imagine a participant said:

“The interface isn’t intuitive”

The facilitator could say:

“Isn’t intuitive?”

This is especially useful when a participant uses a buzzword like “intuitive”. It’s important to dig into what the participant actually means when they use a word like this. As mentioned earlier, we must be mindful of using our own assumptions to interpret the meaning of “intuitive”. This simple technique encourages participants to continue talking, without unintentionally influencing their response.

How to keep a user interview on track

As a moderator, it’s your job to keep the interview on track. Most participants are thrilled to speak to someone from GitLab and are keen to share their pain points and concerns surrounding the product. However, sometimes participants digress from the topics you want to discuss. Veering off-topic isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It only becomes problematic when it goes on for too long and isn’t satisfying the study’s objectives.

When this happens, politely interrupt the participant and say: “this is really interesting but I’m conscious of the time we have together today. There’s some other things I’d like to cover with you. Why don’t we move on and return to this a little later on”.

Capture consistent data

Let’s say you’ve conducted around 2-3 user interviews and, so far, you feel you haven’t begun to capture the data that you need. It’s very tempting to introduce new questions halfway through a study, but this will make synthesizing your data incredibly difficult.

When we synthesize data, we are looking for patterns in responses, this can be done by making sure we ask the same set of questions to every participant.

Having a certain insight from a single person when the other participants did not get a chance to share their thoughts can create inconclusive results - we don’t know if the insight is only relevant to that one person or whether other participants share the same opinion.

Instead, take a break from interviewing participants, and take some time to review your discussion guide. Remember, you can always reach out to a UX Researcher for advice. If you amend or introduce new questions in your discussion guide, then you will need to restart the process of interviewing participants from the beginning.

Speaking fast and slow

Participants come from a wide range of backgrounds and their experiences can shape the depth of their answers. Some participants will speed through questions while others will take longer to ponder the question before they reply. That’s completely natural.

For participants who speak fast. Talking slowly to them can have a calming effect. It indicates that you are not anxious and that you have the time to listen to them.

For participants who speak slowly. As long as they are giving you good answers, don’t hurry them. Putting pressure on them could mean you lose out on discovering key insights.

And finally, be mindful of the time

Usually, time goes by very fast during interviews. Be respectful of the participant’s time and ensure you end the user interview at the time you have agreed.

Note Taking Template

User interview note-taking template. Used to collect raw observations on the participant’s behavior and emotional feedback to the questions, as well as take notes. You can also create a new file directly from the template on Google Drive, by selecting it from one the default styles.