The Art of Interviewing

Some friends have recently started a podcast about the idea of unsubscribing from the “normal” approach to life. It features interviews with individuals who have chosen alternative paths in one way or another (It’s appropriately titled the Unsubscribe Show). I have a different ear while listening to this new creation, perhaps because it’s new, perhaps because I have a bit of the behind-the-scenes process, but it occurred to me recently that I’ve never considered the art of interviewing before… which is funny because my job as a therapist is very similar: a series of questions.

What I find myself drawn to is the ability of an interviewer to ask questions from a place of curiosity, and to craft the questions in such a way that the interviewee is better able to articulate the answers, like providing the bump and set to yield the best spike … This is different from the interviewer who wants to prove a point, highlight their own insights, be the focus of the episode, maybe even have their own ego stroked. The skilled interviewer, or the style I personally find most appealing, is the one who almost fades into the background because the responses from the interviewee are so insightful, well-articulated, profound, provocative, that we don’t even remember the question. Sure, you need an interesting subject to start with, but I think of Krista Tippet from On Being, and I rarely remember her questions, yet I am struck by the answers she receives. What is it about her?... And the questions she sets to her guests? You can literally hear the curiosity in her voice, her excitement to discover what wisdom her guest has to impart, what life experience will blow her mind. She studies up on her guests. She comes to the interview with some idea of who they are, or what they have done, but she lets that knowledge inform her exploration, not limit it. I think of the best instructors I’ve worked with in the fields of outdoor education or wilderness guiding, and although it’s appealing to want to be the instructor/guide that a participant will never forget because they want to be you (picture the oh-so-cool and competent outdoor guide, rugged mountain man or woman with the scent of wilderness and adventure about them… sooooo sexy right?). That impact, although significant, is more momentary than the experience that results in the participant discovering their own strength, ability, compassion, connection… Ask yourself, your most impactful experiences in life, was it that the people with you proved themselves to be amazing? Or was it that you discovered something amazing about yourself?

This ability, to craft interviews, adventure experiences, therapy sessions, learning opportunities in the classroom, in a way that results in the participant being the primary focus… I believe this could be an impactful life skill.

What would it be like to bring this attitude to our longest and deepest relationships? To the people we feel we know, we’ve known sometimes maybe our whole lives… How often have I visited my parents’ home eager to share all that I have experienced in the big wide world? To insist that they listen to my new favorite band? To force them to eat kale? To push the benefits of mindfulness, yoga, you get the idea…To basically shout “look at me!”

Underneath this is a natural bid for love. (The Gottman Institute has some great research on these bids for love, well worth reading if you’re interested in developing or supporting healthy relationships.) These bids for love are not wrong, but if it’s where all of our, or most of our focus lies, perhaps we are missing out on the amazing wisdom our loved ones have to share with us.

As we move into the holiday season and time with family, what a gift it would be to your loved ones to approach them with wondering, a desire to see them as they are today, to ask them questions that are more about helping them articulate themselves than about bringing attention to your own amazing self.

*In a fun and circular sort of way, after writing this post, my friend asked to interview me for his podcast. I sent him this writing, and the result is episode 007 of the Unsubscribe Show. Give a listen if you like, and while you’re there check out the other episodes for inspiration for intentionally choosing the less traveled path in life.