How to Get Better Answers in Interviews

By Barnard Law Collier

For several decades I’ve watched how dozens of reporters listen. By far the most significant trait is they turn off their ears before the speakers finish what they are saying.

They will later admit that they stop listening early in order to craft a reply to what they’ve so far heard so that they can have a fast comeback when the speaker concludes. A quick response indicates that the reporter is smart and well-prepared.

Why the rush? Many working journalists are educated in classrooms where to be first to raise their hand with the “right” answer is deemed a sign of brightness.

Some journalists whom I’ve watched and listened to are aware that some of the best stuff may come at the end of a long ramble. They give speakers time to finish all their ideas, and then allow a few seconds of silence to precede their response.

This pause is a sign of respect for the person speaking, who then may feel that the interviewer is actually thinking about what was just said. This hope for real understanding often produces more honest expressions.

There is a misconception that good interviewers are mostly good at asking questions. Equally important is to listen not only to what someone says but how they say it, with all the inflections, cadences, and implications.

To ask is to suggest. To listen is to begin to understand.

Barney Collier describes himself as cultural anthropologist, writer, former New York Times correspondent and bureau chief, and publisher.

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