My name is Olga and I’m an introvert.
Well, sort of. On a good day, I’m perfectly able to engage in effortless small talk. But on a bad day, in the words of Marina, “I wanna stay inside all day, I want the world to go away”. And yet, I’m an UX researcher, which means I got myself a job that makes me talk to people all the time. And somehow, I love it! Crazy, right?
If your goal is to gather as many insights as possible, you need to open your participant up. And how do you open someone up if you’re scared yourself? Here are some things I learned along the way that you might find helpful. Read on!
This one goes without saying, but I think it’s important to mention. You’re already stressing out about the whole talking-with-a-stranger situation, so you don’t need to add more to the pile. Make sure you’re familiar with the discussion guide (or if you are on your own with the project, write the discussion guide). Memorize formalities you have to say at the beginning. And in case you get nervous and your memory fails, have some notes on you that will help you go on.
"Memorize formalities you have to say at the beginning. And in case you get nervous and your memory fails, have some notes on you that will help you go on."
It’s your territory
I used to be afraid of bugs and spiders when I was a kid. My dad used to tell me, “Look how tiny he is. He is more scared of you than you are of him”. The same goes for research participants. They find themselves in a strange environment, with a stranger asking them (often personal) questions.
When you enter the lab, you do so with a clear plan as to what happens next. Meanwhile, your participants have no clue what will happen. They are afraid they will be tested or judged somehow. Remember — you are in charge here.
Start off with an icebreaker
Now, this is always recommended as a way to open up a participant, but in our case, it serves you as much as it does them.
I usually start a chit-chat about the weather (I know, I know, very original, but I do my best to only use that in extreme weather conditions!) or how difficult it was for them to find the lab (it’s quite difficult to find the lab). With women, I tend to compliment their earrings or nail polish colour. This makes them start talking about where they bought it, while I update my shopping list. Win-win.
What else can you do? There are plenty of small talk topics, but you should definitely avoid those which are in any way controversial, such as politics, immigration, or, sometimes, sports — especially the local league.
You can also try and crack a joke, but it needs to be generic as hell. People get offended over many different topics, and the last thing you want is for your participant to feel offended by you.
If you’re an introvert, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re super shy, but it probably means that social interaction drains you. Therefore, it might be tempting to get done with your project quickly and run as many sessions per day as possible. I’ve been there and trust me, it’s not a good idea.
Be sure to give yourself time to rest. What I find optimal is to conduct 3 sessions per day at the most, with at least a 30-minute break between participants. However, if you prefer to limit the number of sessions or take longer breaks, go for it (as long as your employer allows it).
"If you’re an introvert, it might not mean that you’re super shy, but it probably means that social interaction drains you. So take breaks to help your energy levels."
Try an unconventional approach
We usually meet participants in the lab, but it doesn’t mean it’s the only way to conduct an interview. If you are ready to get out of your comfort zone (literally), check with your participants to see how they’d prefer to talk to you.
Some participants, especially young people, will prefer to talk to you via an instant messaging app. Interviewing via, for example, Messenger will help them (and, honestly, you) feel more comfortable. It might also get you more insights, and a transcript that you can always go back to.
Last but not least
Make sure to pay or otherwise reward your participants. Every time I was afraid I would mess up, I remembered that those people were paid (quite a lot) to sit down with me. From experience as both a researcher and a participant — being paid makes people more patient and kind. They will want to help you. Use that to your advantage.
"From experience as both a researcher and a participant — being paid makes people more patient and kind. They will want to help you. Use that to your advantage."
Originally posted on Olga Wojnarowska's Medium page.