Research Interviewing: The Range of Techniques

By Bill Gillham | Go to book overview

5: The core skills of interviewing

[M]ost people don't listen, in the same way that they don't observe. Everyday
'conversation' is often a kind of jostling, with the nominal listener more or less
impatiently waiting for his or her turn (and often not doing that – 'over-talking'
and pushing the speaker to one side, metaphorically).

(Gillham 2000c: 35)

There is a special kind of ignominy reserved for authors who quote from their own previous work; however, I can't improve on the above and it does make a key point. Careful listening is the central skill in interviewing; and it is not what people normally do.

Indeed, it is not what 'interviewers' do in many situations, especially on television and radio where they often don't allow space for a response, appear to be listening only so far as to score a point or, particularly with members of the public whom they appear to regard as inarticulate, provide the answer to their own questions ('you must feel devastated by what has happened').


The unimportant skills

Texts on interviewing still tend to be dogged by a 1970s' 'social skills' approach, though to a lesser degree as the mechanical, 'surface structure' notion of skilled social behaviour has become increasingly discredited. If you need to be given guidance on how close (or distant) you should be to/from another person or when to smile or use eye contact, you should probably not be in any professional social relationship. Social skill is not on the surface: it is in the attitude and sensitivity to the other person and this expresses itself in natural ways that the other recognizes as valid.

Is this anything more than 'being oneself'? Is there nothing more to it than that? The answer is that 'being oneself' in a performative sense is not easy. Cary Grant frequently said that for an actor to 'be himself' on the screen was

-29-

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