Responsive Interviewing: Allowing Interviewer Voice

In my graduate training, I read studies that used interviews and conducted some in my masters and doctoral research but received no explicit training in how to conduct them. In my experience, this is not unusual. We often assume that we know how interviews work and therefore it often would not occur to us that we need to learn how. Recently I read about a technique called “responsive interviewing” (Rubin & Rubin, 2012). My main take-away was that the traditional interview where the interviewer attempts to stay neutral or refrain from commenting or correcting is just one way to conduct an interview. This traditional interviewing comes from a particular mindset – that the interviewer should not influence the interviewee and therefore needs to stay out of the interview. Alternatively, responsive interviewing comes from the view that an interview is a conversation. The interviewer may agree or disagree, pose unscripted questions or provide their own opinion. The inherent view is that the interviewer is both researcher and participant and can promote insight and reflection by contributing to the conversation.

Intrigued, I switched up my interviewing style in my most recent research interviews. My internal reaction was interesting. I felt guilty, thinking that I was interfering with the process. In particular, one interview stands out. The participant did not agree with my use of a certain term. She argued her point well, so I considered dropping my use or discussion of the term in order to move on. Instead, I pushed back, pointing out what the research says about the concept and how it may strengthen our understanding of pedagogy for particular students. She agreed to disagree, and the interview went on. However, the next morning, I awoke to an email from the interviewee. Apparently, our discussion during the interview prompted her to do her own research. She discovered the term being used by researchers in a field she respected, which resulted in her warming up to the concept. In reflecting up on her email, I was confirmed in my decision to change my interview style as I feel it brought about learning both of us. Had I limited myself to a more traditional interview style, our exchange would not have happened.

Moving forward, I am motivated to explore another aspect of interviewing methodology: identity memos (Maxwell, 2013; McGregor & Fernandez, 2019). These memos require the interviewer to take notes after the interview, noting how the researcher herself was affected by the content and process of interviewing. I have not yet employed it, so stay tuned.

Maxwell, J. A. (2013). Qualitative research design. An interactive approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

McGregor, J., & Fernandez, J. (2019). Theorizing qualitative interviews: Two autoethnographic reconstructions. Modern Language Journal, 103(1), 227–247.

Rubin, H. J., & Rubin, I. S. (2012). The responsive interview as an extended conversation. In Qualitative Interviewing: The Art of Hearing Data (2nd ed., pp. 108–128).