Interviewing Guidelines

Interviews are an extremely useful strategy for effective facilitation. They can help you to better determine the objectives for your meeting, and to to develop productive relationships from the outset. This article provides some thoughts which may help you to develop your approach to interviewing people prior to meetings.

Interviews need to be structured in order to ensure that they cover all the ground necessary to achieve their purpose. The purpose may be any number of things but in the particular context of meetings they could be to: collect information, try out ideas, generate new ideas, all of the foregoing.


A thoughtfully planned outline framework for an interview will help to keep the discussion to relevant topics and to manage the time. It will also feel a good deal more professional to the interviewee, and may well enhance your credibility. In addition, the structure ensures a consistency in data collection which helps the analysis stage.
Use the principles of structured interviews to plan any interview in advance.
In the preparation phase ensure that you collect all the relevant background and immediately available facts. Define a clear objective for the interview and communicate this to the interviewee well beforehand (eg when arranging the interview time and location.


All interviews have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Beginnings & ends always have the same constituents.
Beginnings are about establishing rapport and trust. The interviewee must be given the chance to settle during the ‘beginning’ of the interview.


Greeting, Introduction (names, roles)
Describe and check understanding of purpose: agree purpose
Discuss confidentiality
Describe outline structure of ‘middle’ of interview, ie what is to come.


Review and summarise the key points from the interview
Make clear what happens next (eg will the interviewee hear any more about this?)
Thank the interviewee and close the interview.


Middles of interviews will vary according to the purpose you have set, and also according to the starting point of different interviewees. At the beginning of a large programme of data collection interviews, the ‘middle’ may be deliberately loosely structured in order to explore what ground there is to cover. Later in the programme, this will be tightened up to standardise the research and make it easier to summarise the findings.
Middles should follow certain design principles.
  • Decide all the ground to cover
  • Chunk ‘ground’ into topic areas
  • Open up before you close down (eg don’t get into discussion of an idea or proposal before you have a feel for the person’s stake in it)
  • Start with the topics easy to talk about
  • Leave more difficult or sensitive topics till the end
  • Arrange topics for a logical flow
  • Try the structure out a few times before finalising it.
 Note: When applying a ‘middle’ structure, don’t insist on keeping to the sequence you have planned, but do try to cover the whole of a topic area before moving on to another.
The matrix of information we need to gather from the particular interviews will determine the middle of the interviews for our survey work.

Some Typical Things to Watch for in Interviews

  • Pay attention to the first thing the interviewee says – it is usually a major key to understanding
  • Don’t let the interviewee ramble and wander off the topic – you should be able to interrupt to stay on track
  • Many of us suffer from an unwillingness to say no – particularly to superiors. Watch for evidence and explore
  • If there are long silences from the interviewee, it is legitimate to ask what is going on. Useful information usually results.
  • Don’t rush to identify ‘problems’ too early – let the information wash over you for a while.
  • Be aware of where the energy is for the interviewee – inflexion in voice etc. This is a key way of getting in touch with feelings.
  • Be alert for problems that aren’t really Problems. Sometimes we do the right things, but are not terribly comfortable about it – this is life!
  • Whenever possible get the interviewee to describe the problem before giving lots of background information.
  • Be alert for interviewee images – e.g. ‘Up a hole’ ‘a real minefield’. Exploring these is often a productive way forward.
  • Start with easiest, most easily addressed issues first. Build gradually on early successes.
  • Generally advice is not helpful. Usually the interviewee has the best answers – your job is to help find them.
  • Your first priority is to take care of yourself. It is the interviewee’s problem. If you are unwilling to help, don’t – for this will be communicated.
  • Counseling is not always a process of helping interviewees to make big decisions. More usually it is helping them to make small choices or live with discomfort.
  • Finally, there is always one key choice: Change the situation, or if not possible, help the interviewee to learn to live with it. Identifying which is true for the interviewee is crucial.

 Matching and Mirroring

We tend to like people who are just like us, we tend to respond to people who are similar to the way we are. Next time you are in a conversation that is going well look at how your stance compares to that of the person you are taking to – you may notice quite a few similarities. Compare that with the next time you are clearly not getting on with someone (normally in terms of hidden frustration or resentment rather than explicit conflict) and see how few of the similarities remain. Our physical response (posture, arm positions, head angle, animation, breathing rate, tempo and tone) often is influenced by the harmony in our mental approach to each other, and (and here’s the important bit) vice versa. Do as much as you (comfortably) can to harmonise with the interviewee, without actually imitating them, and you will notice the benefit in your relationship.

Improving Information Quality

Interviewees can sometimes take shortcuts in their language. The following article on language quality in meetings applies just as well to ensuring data quality in interviews:  The peril of shortcuts in language
A basic guide on interviewing can be found here:

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