Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Become an OU student

Download this course

Share this free course

Conversations and interviews
Conversations and interviews

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

1.5 Whats different about a practice-centred interview?

Finally in this chapter, I want to consider a few points that arise from the fact that as you undertake a practice-centred inquiry, you will not only be needing to gather information; you will also be attempting to make things happen – to change the way work is done, to move to new priorities and to improve working performance. This unavoidably has an impact on how you gather information through interviews and conversations. There are three issues that you will need to be aware of as you ask questions and these issues will require you to develop strategies for dealing with them.

You will be asking questions of people with whom you have ongoing relationships

That person you’re ‘interviewing’ today could be your boss or your customer tomorrow. You can’t walk away from interviews treating them as discreet events with no relevance to what you can do tomorrow. Now, this can affect:

  • The questions you ask. Can you ask colleagues personal questions? Is it fair or possible to ask questions of a manager that require her to pass judgement on a colleague? Unfortunately, there will be some questions that you can’t ask or that your respondent might choose not to answer.
  • How your respondent will react to you in the future. It may be that asking a particular question of a colleague will alert them to your interest in a particular issue. Now, that may be no bad thing! Indeed, it may be that, knowing your interest in some matter, your respondent digs out further information that might be helpful to you. The point here, however, is that asking people questions may affect, or be affected by, your on-going relations with your respondent.

Your conversations with colleagues may not only be opportunities for asking questions but also for influencing them

How do you decide whether to ask a question or push a particular agenda of your own? What if asking a question in a particular manner might help a colleague ‘get it’? You may remember that earlier I mentioned problems about asking ‘leading questions’ – but you are engaged in a productive inquiry, where information gathering is a part of your attempt to make things happen! As is so often the case in this field, there are trade-offs between getting the very best information possible and achieving your work goals.

Another aspect of your on-going relationships is that you will need to be sensitive to your colleagues: without care, you can make interviews feel very demanding and even unpleasant for them. The person you are asking questions of is also a friend, a colleague, a drinking companion, a confidant, a competitor. There is no way round this: you will always have to consider the implications of asking questions for your on-going relations.

The opportunity to ask questions will often pop up most unexpectedly

Of course, often you will plan a more formal conversation, but as I mentioned in the section ‘Unplanned conversations’, sometimes you will just find yourself with the chance to gather some really helpful information. There’s no way of planning such ooccasions, and you will have to develop ‘antennae’ to spot them. This skill, as with so much of interviewing, comes with practice, but do help yourself by looking for opportunities.

So how can you manage these issues?

I’m afraid that there is little advice that I can give on this question, for the answer will depend very much on your particular work context and the nature of your on-going relations with colleagues, friends and social contacts. In the end, your management of a work-based, productive inquiry will be down to your own judgement of what to do. Perhaps the following questions will help you make those judgements:

  • Is getting a partial answer better than taking risks in order to get a ‘perfect’ answer?
  • Would you like another person to treat you as you propose to treat a colleague when asking them questions?
  • How do you balance a need to make progress with your project with a desire for better information?