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Interviews vs. Interrogations

In continuous improvement, you often have to go out and collect information from people. Sometimes it is from observations. Often, though, you will be speaking directly to people doing the process, and you will be asking them questions.

Keep in mind one important distinction. Interviews generally seek answers. Interrogations seek confessions. Don’t go into an interview with the intention of figuring out who is at fault for a problem. 

When going to talk to people about their processes, style matters. First, try to limit the number of people who will be meeting with the interviewee, and designate one person from the interviewing team as a spokesperson. Use a list of predetermined questions to keep on track, but, of course, feel free to ask follow up questions based upon the actions.

Don’t use loaded questions. ‘Why hasn’t anyone ever fixed this?’ is a loaded question. Try to phrase the question in a way that doesn’t put people on the spot. Wording, though, is not the only way to make a question aggressive. Tone can make most questions become loaded. ‘So, why, EXACTLY, do you do it that way?’ tends to load the question.

Putting people on the defensive is not a good way to get accurate, helpful answers. It also makes people feel like you are there to fix them, and not the process. Remember, assigning blame for problems does little to solve them.

Tips to conducting good interviews:

  1. Always remember the purpose of the discussion. What are you trying to find out?
  2. Limit the number of people who are present. Limit the number of people who talk at all even more. Assign a spokesperson. Other people can still talk, but they should not be chiming in willy nilly. People shut down in a hurry when several people all talk at them in unison.
  3. Be at the same physical level as the interviewee. People feel threatened when they are sitting in a cubicle and 4 people walk in looming over them. There is also some discomfort to walking into a conference room and being the only one standing while being questioned.
  4. Make sure the interviewee is clear about the purpose of the questioning. You know why you are there—do they? Make sure they they have been told about the project. An interview team should not be breaking news to people about a pending change.
  5. Have permission to be there from their managers. Don’t get them in trouble for not getting their work done.
  6. Ask the interviewee for permission to speak with them, but only if you will take no for an answer. If you say ‘Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?’ and they say ‘Yes’, you should walk away.
  7. Paraphrase what you heard them say so you make sure you get it right. This is known as a briefback.
  8. Write down what they say so you don’t have to come back later to ask the same thing.
  9. Communicate within your team so multiple people don’t ask the same questions.
  10. Have an open mind to avoid bias. Don’t try to lead the person down a path.
  11. Don’t challenge the person—just ask questions. Remember, your questions may make people uncomfortable. Give them outs so they don’t ‘clam up.’

Don’t get a reputation for using people’s comments against them. Word of your style will travel. People will know about you before you come, and past transgressions will precede you.


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