terça-feira, 25 de março de 2014

Pesquisa Qualitativa

Managing Emotions in Qualitative Interviews


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When we conduct qualitative interviews, we potentially expose ourselves to people we don’t like, people that push our buttons, or people that behave badly in groups. We may also find ourselves conducting interviews on highly charged or polarizing topics for which we have strong feelings. Or, we may find an emotional event in our personal life (e.g. relationship failure, job loss, death of a pet) so distracting that it’s difficult to attend to the interview.

Any of these has the potential to derail our ability to listen attentively during the data collection process. Whether emotions arise from interviewee behaviors, our opinions on certain topics, or unrelated personal events, there is always the potential that our listening will be affected in a way that unconsciously filters, dismisses, or colors essential data.

The quality of data we collect is dependent on our ability to identify these emotional interferences upfront and restrict their impact before we’ve wasted an hour of our time and someone else’s. When we let our emotions distract us, we miss potentially irretrievable data and/or collect irrelevant information.

In this post, I offer some simple, yet easy to apply, effective strategies for managing emotions while conducting qualitative interviews. Most come from personal experience!

Managing Emotions Unrelated to the Research or Participants

Sometimes life events present themselves at the most inconvenient times. As a qualitative interviewer, it’s important to notice if you are feeling any intense emotions unrelated to the person or persons you are interviewing.  If so, try one of these strategies to manage those emotions:
  • Take a breather. Delay the start of the interview by 10 to 15 minutes and find a quiet place to do some deep breathing and gathering up of your emotions. A slightly shorter interview, but one in which you can be fully present, will net higher quality data than a longer interview in which you are distracted by your emotions.
  • Shift your focus to the task at hand – the qualitative interview you are about to conduct. Promise yourself that you will be able to get back to the personal issue bothering you as soon as the interview is over. You can even visualize an empty jar into which you put those emotions, and from which you can retrieve them as soon as you have finished the interview.
  • Instead of focusing on your own feelings, change the emphasis to the feelings of the respondents you are about to interview. Beyond the benefit of shifting away from your own self-focusing thoughts, considering the feelings and circumstances of the person from whom you are collecting data will help you achieve a better understanding and deeper meaning of that individual’s words.

Managing Emotions Related To the Topic

Even though most of us are aware of where we stand with regard to our political, moral and social belief systems, we all have implicit biases of which we are unaware. Implicit biases can sneak up on us when we least expect it and trigger emotions we may not have realized we’ve had about certain topics or issues. Some strategies that help keep implicit biases and the emotions they generate at bay include:
  • Before entering the interview, review all of the information you can related to the study topic. The more knowledge you have about a topic, the easier it is to focus on and deeply process new information at a more inclusive level.
  • Challenge yourself to collect the most accurate information possible. This will kick your listening skills into high gear, which in turn will distract you from any other emotions or thoughts that might try to interfere.
  • Bring your curiosity and “need to know more” to the interview setting. Don’t be in a hurry to find answers or come with preconceived notions. As an added benefit, this cognitive focus will likely cause you to process information at a deeper and more meaningful level.
  • Make sure you engage in active listening. When listening is done in a passive mode, the mind is more likely to wander to thoughts it deems more pressing or interesting. But, if you use probing and prompting techniques to listen actively, you will not only gain a deeper understanding of the response, but you will also keep your mind from turning inward to your own issues.
  • Open yourself to the possibility that some of your convictions may be wrong. Instead of coming to the interview with preconceived notions, open yourself to the possibility that some of your ideas are wrong. Just the consideration of such can temporarily deflate associated emotions.
  • Get excited. Getting excited about what you are listening to will not only shift the focus away from your personal emotions, but it will also create enjoyment in the process for you and the interviewee.
Managing Emotions Related to the Interviewee

When a study participant dominates the group, pulls your chain, or mimics someone with whom you have unresolved issues, try one of the following to create the brain space necessary to listen attentively:
  • If you know the participant is a trigger before the focus group begins, seat that person on either side of you so you cannot see their face. This will disable eye-contact, result in fewer uninvited comments, and lower the potential for triggering your emotions.
  • Equip interviewees with pencil and paper. That way, when incited by someone’s comment, you can stop for a “time out” by asking the interviewee(s) to spend a few moments quietly writing out their responses to the next question. During this time, take five minutes to calm your emotions.
  • If a focus group participant keeps harping on a position you find irritating, ask what others think about the topic. This could also be a good time to call on someone who has not yet spoken. An alternative response can often help recalibrate your emotions.
  • Try not to take things personally. You likely have never met this person before. Realize that the emotions you are feeling therefore have nothing to do with that individual, and temporarily set your emotions aside. After the interview you can focus on figuring out what triggered the emotion a strategy for dealing with it if it comes up again.
  • When possible, be the one who recruits the study participants. This will give you a chance to acquaint yourself with the individuals you will be interviewing beforehand and perhaps screen out inappropriate candidates. At the very least, it will give you a heads-up about potential emotional triggers that may arise during the interview.
Conducting qualitative interviews can be challenging under ideal circumstances, but are especially so when dealing with unrelated personal emotions, highly charged topics, or interviewees who push our buttons. And while I am far from an expert on this issue, these tips may help the next time you encounter a situation in which personal emotions intrude on your qualitative interviewing.

Your Turn

Have you conducted a qualitative interview in which you were distracted by personal emotions? How did you deal with the situation? And, knowing what you know now, how will you react differently next time? Leave a comment below and let me know!

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