sexta-feira, 30 de agosto de 2013

Pesquisa qualitativa

Richard Krueger Picture

Dr. Richard Krueger on Qualitative Listening

I thought if I really wanted to learn about listening during qualitative interviews I would go to an expert, someone who has been doing it and teaching it for several years.
So I contacted Dr. Richard Krueger, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota. You may know Dr. Krueger from a focus group workshop or qualitative methods course you took from him or from one of his many books that you keep as a close reference (as I do).
It was an true honor and a real pleasure to interview Dr. Krueger. I’ve been a dedicated follower of his work since I took my first focus group workshop with him in 2001.
Read on . . . you’re in for a real treat!

Eliot: I think listening is so important to qualitative work; in fact, I believe it’s the very essence of collecting high value data.

Krueger: I think you’re right on target. This is one of the major challenges of people starting to do qualitative research. They underestimate the time, the discipline, the amount of effort and the skills needed to be a good listener. I know of nothing else in life, well, except spouses listening carefully to each other or children listening to their parents, which requires the same level of listening acuity. But many times in qualitative interviews, as in relationships we become casual listeners, tuning in, tuning out and not paying a lot of attention because we’re waiting to speak our views on the topic. And all we hear are the first few words.

Eliot: How would you define listening for someone new to qualitative research? 

Krueger: Everyone thinks they are a good listener. But there’s a considerable difference between informal listening and the listening needed when involved in disciplined inquiry. When listening in a research mode, you need to engage in a different way. It takes preparation, mindfulness, discipline, concentration, and strategies for capturing the data. In addition, you must create the appropriate environment that fosters an effective interview.

Eliot: One word that really pops out at me in your definition is the word discipline. Can you say more about how discipline relates to listening?

Krueger: I’ve watched a lot of novices do focus groups. Part of what they need to learn is the self-discipline it takes to hold back on their own point of view. So often when you’re hearing someone talk, what’s going through your mind is, “How do I feel about that?” One of the key pieces of discipline is to suspend for a while your point of view; also to have the discipline to control your body so that you don’t telegraph certain reactions to it. If the interviewer doesn’t like what they hear, and they react, it can influence the person they’re interviewing. And that can change the results. Discipline doesn’t come easily—it takes lots of practice. The people who have the most problem tend to be those in an administrative or supervisory role—those that are regularly trying to persuade or convince other people to take action. For example, if we ask a public health nurse to go out to do interviews in the community, it can be very hard for them to switch off being a nurse and allow themselves to be able to hear the person’s response and control their own response to that person.

Eliot: It seems like an essential component that should be taught as part of any qualitative course.

Krueger: Yes, but in the courses I’ve seen students take at universities this aspect of self-discipline, of controlling your own reactions and controlling what your body is doing—and being aware of it—is not even mentioned.

Eliot: So, as someone who has taught qualitative methods in academia for a number of years and trained hundreds of people in focus group workshops, how do you teach qualitative listening? 

Krueger: Teaching people to listen is a challenge because they first need to un-learn many habits and patterns that they’ve had for years. Listening to a conversation with friends is different from listening in a research interview.  When listening in a research mode the interviewer is guided by a specific purpose. There is a reason for the interview that is described in a plan that is typically reviewed and critiqued by others. Then the researcher uses systematic and verifiable processes in gathering and analyzing the data. When I teach people to listen in a research mode I emphasize three aspects of the interview process: preparation, interviewing and follow-up.

Eliot: Let’s start with the first of those three aspects. How can an interviewer prepare to listen? What does that entail?

Krueger: Preparation for listening consists of getting your body and mind in tune for the listening experience. It means that you think about setting aside your personal opinions and get yourself focused on understanding the person you’ll be interviewing. Preparation also means carefully thinking through the questions you plan to ask. You spend time developing these questions, sequencing them and considering potential follow-up questions. And you also need to create the proper environment for the interview that will be relaxing and comfortable for the participants.

Eliot: I know that the more prepared I feel the more confident I am going into the interview. What about during the interview itself? You mentioned the need to “un-learn” bad listening habits. Are you talking about things like interrupting, finishing people’s sentences . . . those kind of bad habits?

Krueger: Yes, it’s those things and others. I think there’s a couple of things that people regularly do and don’t even know they’re doing them. Like they may jump in on a topic or move to another topic prematurely. Maybe it’s a feeling they have that they need to be in control. Or it could be even how we look at people. One of the simple things when trying to gain rapport is to make eye contact in such a way that the individual gets the feeling that you think what they are saying is important. In casual conversations we rarely do those kinds of things.  And, at times, you also want to turn your body so your shoulders are square with the interviewee, facing them.

Eliot: You also said we need to set aside personal opinions, especially during the interview. It’s one thing to set aside personal opinions that you’re aware but what about the ones we’re not aware of? My implicit biases sometimes sneak up on me during an interview.

Krueger: Yes, they will catch you by surprise. When I talk about it in class I refer to implicit biases as hot buttons. People have hot buttons they’re not even aware of until someone pushes them—something is said and you feel yourself having an emotional reaction. The person who is inciting it didn’t intend to–it may be something they said quite innocently that caused the reaction. Part of it is just having the awareness. Interviewers should know that it happens to everyone. Things could be said in a group that bother you because they conflict with your values, or your judgment, or something that’s troubling to you. If you’re aware that that might happen that’s the key thing. And if it happens to you, you must have the discipline to control your behavior.

Eliot: In your book (Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research), you talk about the need to listen and think simultaneously during the interview. I find doing this particularly difficult since I’m not good at multi-tasking. I’m either listening intently or thinking about a good probe or paraphrase to use next. What strategies would you suggest for developing this parallel talent?

Krueger: Yes, without a doubt this is difficult to do. Some things that might help are to:
  • Get very comfortable with your questions ahead of time. Practice asking them and try to anticipate the range of responses that you might receive for each question.  It is difficult to concentrate when everything is new to the interviewer, but if you have already heard or anticipated the comments, then you are able to quickly see the pattern and capture it in your notes.
  • Get comfortable with brief pauses. Don’t feel that you need to jump in immediately when someone stops talking. Sometimes the 5 – 10 second pause elicits new insights from another participant.
  • Have a colleague with you when doing the focus group, an assistant moderator or recorder, to take notes and observe the conversation. This person doesn’t speak until the end of the group when the moderator invites comments or a summary. If the moderator has missed something important the assistant moderator can bring it up at the end of the focus group.
  • Think about three simple things: Are they clear? Do they make sense? Do I need to ask for an example?
  • Pay attention to time. In a focused interview your key questions tend to be in the middle or at the end of the interview. Be sure to allow sufficient time for these critical questions.

Eliot: I love your first point about practicing and anticipating responses in order to imagine what could possibly come up. What a fabulous idea but how seldom people actually take the time to do it.

Krueger: Yes. What people don’t often think about is what was not said and if there is a reason for it not being said. For example, if we’re talking about the inconveniences of airline travel and what the airline can do to help with that, one of the things we anticipate someone will say is that they expect a proper apology when things go wrong–not one made on a loud speaker that is garbled but one that is direct and personal. But if we go into a focus group and we don’t hear that, then at some point we may want to bring it up and say, “What about apologies from the airline?” We analyze what we receive but we can’t analyze what we could have received.

Eliot: When you suggested asking yourself, “Are they clear? Do they make sense? Do I need an example?” I thought, if only we could all keep those three little things in mind as a mini-checklist. 

Krueger: Yes, I think it would help. One of the things that’s interesting to do during election year is listen to people who are running for federal or higher level state offices as they are being interviewed. Regularly you find the answer does not fit the question. The answer sounds very good and they use a lot of interesting language but if you’re listening closely you’ll find that they didn’t really answer the question. They used something called a pivot in which they gave part of an answer and then moved to what they really wanted to talk about. There are some interviewers who are very good, like Charlie Rose, where, if the person doesn’t answer a question, they come back with the same question or a modified question.

Eliot: Also in your book, you write: “It is not enough to be an empty vessel, listening and absorbing the comments of participants.” I sometimes find myself lapsing into this passive listening state, especially with a fascinating respondent. What are your suggestions for maintaining a state of active listening?

Krueger: This regularly happens. It tends to occur when you are interviewing someone who is truly entertaining. They are clever with their words, they use humor or they tell fascinating stories. Sometimes you hear about a topic that is spellbinding and you just want to hear more. Some people have a gift for telling stories or describing events. And it can be easy to lapse into the passive listening mode and just enjoy the story. But in these moments you might think about these things:
  • If I had to explain this concept to someone else, do I have enough information?
  • Is this person telling me something new that I haven’t heard before?
  • Is this person taking me off topic?  And if so, will it help my research effort?
  • Does this seem logical and rational?
  • Do I need to ask for specific examples?

Eliot: Along the same line, what about listening to the rambler. How do we respectfully listen, not knowing if there will be a morsel in there somewhere or how long it will take to get to it? 

Krueger: Ramblers can take you off topic and jump to areas that are of little or no interest to the research. Or sometimes the rambler will stay on topic but continually repeat what they’ve said earlier. The first time someone rambles off topic make a mental note and be ready to interrupt the next time they move off topic. In addition, be sure this person understands the question being asked. Sometimes people ramble because they don’t understand the question. Another way to handle the rambler is to look directly at him or her, and ask the question. You might also consider mentioning in your introductory ground rules that: “My job as moderator is to keep the group on topic and to finish on time. And as a result I may need to interrupt people in order to move to the next questions. So my apologies in advance if I interrupt you.” This becomes a bigger problem when you do telephone focus groups. On the telephone you cannot give people visual signals like not looking at them, laying down your pen, or looking at other people.

Eliot: I find it harder to listen in focus groups than during individual interviews. I notice that when I’m listening to one focus group participant the others kind of blur in the background causing me to get a little anxious about excluding the rest of the group. What suggestions do you have for listening in a group?

Krueger: This is an important reason why audio recordings are essential. When moderating you will need to develop a rapid means of note taking. The audio recording is valuable because it allows you to review all comments in detail at a later time. Also in the focus groups don’t expect everyone to speak for equal amount of time. Some participants often have more insight or experience and you should expect them to be more articulate. But don’t forget those who are silent. Pay attention to who is not talking and look at them. Call on them and invite them to share their thoughts. Some of the most productive comments come from those participants.

Eliot: Good listeners tell us that listening is much more than listening to words. There’s also facial expression, tone, word choice, body language and other stimuli to watch for. Can you speak a little about your experience with this? 

Krueger: Don’t go overboard with body language. Body language is complicated and difficult to interpret in focus groups. Often these are people who you’ve never seen before and you have no history or patterns of their normal behavior. That makes it difficult to interpret body language. Just look for the obvious. When you see something that might be interesting, try to get the person to describe their feelings. It is risky to assume that you know the meaning of the body language unless the person actually tells you what they are feeling.

Eliot: When I’m listening to the response of one participant and catch another participant frowning or shaking their head, reacting in some way, I’ll call on them and say, “It looks like you have something to say about that. What would you like to add?”

Krueger: Yes, that’s good. That’s very good. Or you could say, “Tell me more,” or better yet, “How do you feel about that?” What people say cognitively is not always the driver of behavior; emotions may be more of a driver. So as I’m listening to people I’m watching for when they become engaged, when they become emotional at some level.

Eliot: Finally, I’ve heard you talk several times about the moments immediately after the focus group and how important that window of time is to capture additional information. Is that because your recall is the best at that time in case you might not have been listening as closely as you should have been?

Krueger: The moments immediately after an interview are critical. This is a time to get your notes in order, to jot down additional observations, to discuss the interview with colleagues that were present, and to begin the analytic effort. This is a time when I want to hear from other members of the team about possible things that I missed that I did not pick up the first time—words or concepts or big ideas. I might ask the others, “What of all the things you heard today were the most important?” “Were there any surprises? Were there any quotes that were exceptionally stunning? What things should I have probed deeper on?

Eliot: That sounds like a very valuable process. It’s like you’re taking advantage of the collective listening of all the people who were in the room for the focus group.

Krueger: That’s right. I find it especially helpful if you have someone local from the community. They will pick up on things that others have not. Or people with different backgrounds will see things that others do not pick up on.

Eliot: Wrapping up, what final recommendations would you have for qualitative researchers who want to develop better listening skills?

Krueger: Some things that I think would helpful are the following:
  • Get a mentor or a coach to watch you and offer suggestions. It is difficult to self-diagnose your own listening ability. If it is impractical for the coach to watch you, they might listen to the audio recording to help you identify strengths and weaknesses.
  • Ask the person interviewed for their feedback (if it’s appropriate). You might say, “I’m going to be doing more interviews like this. What suggestions might you have to make the interview better? Or, “How could I have listened to you better?”
  • Use a mirror to fine-tune your facial expressions, such as smiling, looking surprised, and looking like you want more information.
  • Don’t forget the power of the pause. The best interviewers I’ve seen know just when to use the pause to elicit more insight. Rookies tend to speak too quickly and move on to the next question. The expert knows when to wait for more.
  • Watch others who are really good at it. You can talk about the concept of waiting for an answer, but it’s not until you actually see someone do it, and you think, “Wow, that works really well.” Sometimes just watching a master do some of these things and then having someone sit next to you and say, “Watch this; do this; try this . . .” That’s how you get much better.
Eliot: Thank you Dr. Krueger for sharing such important and useful information. You’ve really helped me unpack the important aspects of good qualitative listening and I know that your practical, well-tested suggestions will inspire many to take qualitative interviewing to the next level.

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