"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply." - Stephen Covey

Listening is becoming a lost art. With the every day distractions of smart phones, texting, and our busy lifestyles, it is easy to feel as if the people around us are only half listening at best. With the inability to cut off constant communication, it takes serious effort to have a one-on-one conversation free of distractions. The qualitative IDI or ethnography is a rare space in which attention is solely focused upon the conversation at hand. The respondent is center stage and is not fighting technology for attention. 

It is a common occurance for study participants to show sincere appreciation after an IDI or an ethnographic in-home is complete. I believe that the appreciation that is so common following interviews has very little to do with the incentive and everything to do with being listened to, if only for a few hours. Put simply, participants feel the intrinsic rewards of being listened to. As researchers, we listen instead of simply waiting for our turn to speak.

"We have but two ears and one mouth so that we may listen twice as much as we speak." - Thomas Edison

Developing skills as a researcher is more about listening to the answers than it is about posing the questions. While anyone can ask questions, being good listeners is central to the craft of qualitative research. 

1. Engage during the ice breaker: The conversation intro provides the opportunity to establish yourself as a real person and set the tone for the time you will spend with the respondent. Be thoughtful and engaging during the ice breaker as if you were sitting next to the person on a plane, rather than in a research context.  

2. Make eye contact: As participants answer your questions, make strong eye contact throughout. Not in a deadlocked eyes kind of way, but enough that they know you are giving them your undivided attention.  

3. Be relaxed so they relax: Use a relaxed posture and sit somewhere comfortable if possible. Sit as though you were out to dinner rather than if you were at the most important job interview of your life. 

4. Format your guide as a conversation: Set up the interview guide in a logical sequence that makes it easy to memorize and only glance at when needed. The key is to spend more time making eye contact with your respondent and less time reading your guide. These non-verbal cues reinforce your position as an active listener.

5. Smile: Don't be afraid to smile. Maintaining a poker face can make respondents feel nervous and less likely to open up about the topics at hand. 

6. Pause before moving onto a follow up or probe:  Before asking for clarification and probing further, it is helpful to let respondents think further on their own. After taking a moment to pause, then delve deeper into the question. 

7. Be encouraging: Throughout the interview, try to encourage and validate respondents for the answers they are providing. Phrases such as "thank you for that", "that is very helpful" or "that is so interesting" go a long way towards letting them know you are listening and that what they are saying is valuable. 

8. Use a watch instead of your phone for the time: While looking at your phone for the time can be interpreted incorrectly, a watch never fails. It signals to respondents that your are not being distracted by your smart phone and that you are fully listening. 

The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.