Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tools: Interviewing Tips from Q&A Guru Sawatsky

When you do interviews, do you typically ask closed- or open-ended questions? If you don't know what I'm talking about, trot on over to this great story about interviewing guru John Sawatsky. The story talks about how conventional interviewing techniques often don't work.

It includes some interesting anecdotes about well-known TV journalists falling flat in their interviews, generally because of closed-ended questions (ones that can be answered with a "yes" or "no"), rather than "what," "how" and "why." Seeing Sawatsky speak at a workshop a few years ago had a big influence on me. If you don't have a chance to see him yourself, check out one of his books.

1 comment:

Vasyl said...


I enjoyed that piece on Sawatsky that this blog entry linked to. Oddly enough as an information specialist/librarian what we call the reference interview is something that takes a great deal of time to learn and hone. For some time while in Kyiv, I did work shops for the lawyers at the law firm I was with on how to to conduct what in my profession involves posing open ended questions with no "yes" or "no" answers.

When at library school at McGill, there was one very poignant story we were told by Kendall Wallace, who used to work in the McLennan Reference Library at that same institution.

He recalled his early days working at a public library. A young patron came in and asked him for books on dinosaurs. He returned with a stack of them. The boy leafed through the pages, didn't say much and then said. "No they're too long." He scooted off and returned again with some less hefty tomes. Once again the boy leafed through the pages and shook his head.

Kendall then finally realized something. He had not even interacted with the boy sufficiently to even know what it was he was after, other than books on dinosaurs.

Then the boy said, "I just want books on dinosaurs with pictures and not a lot of words to read to my younger brother!"

Now as we all know, had he posed the right questions he would have answered the client's needs a lot sooner.

Often Librarians and Information Specialists have to elicit a response from their client in order to help them in the best possible way. It is not always easy, as they are not always willing to disclose what they are searching for or the purpose.

Someone who needs a image, let's say of a traffic jam just as an example, to be used in a brochure that has to be physically printed will have a need for a high resolution image, where as if they needed it for a presentation their need would be a lot different.

Thanks for sharing that article. While it was written some time ago, in includes a great deal of value.