Interview tip #7: Give people a magic wand
Updated: Sep 22, 2020
Toward the end of every interview, I love asking at least one speculative question. The idea of asking speculative questions in a factual interview can seem outlandish and a bit crazy, especially when you’re interviewing professionals, experts, or people with a very pragmatic attitude. But if you’re getting rote responses, these kinds of questions are a great way to shake things up.
Bizarre though it may seem, I picked up this technique many years ago when I was a mentor for at-risk children in London. The approach I used was based on Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, which focuses on goals: what you want to change in your life, rather than what caused your problems in the first place.
For the first few books I wrote, I had to ask people to describe traumatic events, and one day it occurred to me that my mentoring techniques might be relevant here too.
Let me explain what I mean by “speculative.”
For a book about cancer survivors, I asked each of 50 interviewees, “If you could turn the clock back and take cancer out of the equation in your life, would you do it?”
For a book about a little girl injured in a childcare center fire, I asked her doctors, nurses, teachers, and family, “If you had a crystal ball and could see into Sophie’s future, what do you think you would see? What would you WANT to see?”
The results were astonishing.
The very first time I tried this was with a police officer who had been first on the scene of that childcare center fire. Sure, I felt pretty crazy asking a uniformed officer what he would do with a magic wand, but he didn’t blink or miss a beat: he just gave me a beautiful, emotionally nuanced answer that was pure gold.
It’s those moments of connection that make me want to keep asking every obvious, dumb, crazy question I can think of. Sometimes, it makes magic happen.
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