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Listen Attentively

Good phrasing of questions depends on being able to receive and process what the respondent is saying in the course of the interview. This is challenging; significant information can easily by. Once the interviewer has missed the opportunity to explore a lead, it is often difficult to return to the topic.

What to Listen For

When listening, the interviewer should pay attention to the respondent's terms, categories, and expressions. Rather than assuming to have understood, the interviewer should ask the respondent to define, clarify or qualify them. Asking for a specific example, incident, or event is always a fruitful means to engage the respondent. During the interview, writing down terms, categories and expressions as they come up will help the interviewer to come back to them thoroughly.

Tolerate Silence

An important listening skill is to tolerance silence, and to allow the respondent to pause and reflect. Patience is also required to allow the interview to unfold gradually, one question at a time.

"If you allow respondents time to think, then you will get more trustworthy data." Corrine Glesne and Alan Peshkin (1992). Becoming Qualitative Researchers, p. 90.

Example: Patient Listening

Interviewer: Do you feel that your family has adjusted to life here?

Bala: Yes.

Interviewer: What was that process like? What changes did you have to go through before you felt you had adjusted?

Bala: It's a good question, a very deep question. I have to think.

Interviewer: What kinds of things did you miss from back at home?

Bala: Not only me, everybody who leaves their own country faces these things. My birthplace, my mother, my friends, my scenic beauty, my weather—a lot of things I missed from my country. But at the same time, step by step I forget and I liked this country, and I developed my knowledge and I live peacefully. Now this is my home.

Interviewer: As you were adjusting, do you remember noticing what is different here when it comes to your day to day life?

Bala: Here it's a systematic life. Time is very important. And my wife never worked in Sri Lanka, but she's working now. She also changed a lot! She had to learn telephone answering techniques, and the timetable, how to go out and behave, how to move with the people, how to answer, many things she learned after she came here. At the time she was at home she didn't know what to do. She never lived... She was like a family member and my wife, that's it. But here she's my partner. She's helping me in many ways. That's why I'm very happy.

Tamil Interviw #5


The interviewer begins with a broad question about life changes. The respondent replies, "I have to think." The interviewer follows an appropriate course of making the questions more specific, and more easily answerable. Gradually, a description of life changes emerges.

Watch and listen

Another important listening skill is to be attentive to all forms of communication during the interview, including pauses, gestures, nodding, eye contact, and utterances. Nonverbal communication can have significance for the respondent's meaning.

Example: Non-verbal Communication

Interviewer: How many relatives in Canada?

Domenico:...We are all together as a family, now. My entire family is here now... We used to see each other more regularly when we all lived in the same general area. Now one lives there (pointing off in the distance), one lives there (pointing in the other direction). One is 70 km away from me and another is 30 km away.

Italian #10


The respondent's hand gestures dramatize how his family members live at a distance from one another. He follows the gesturing with specific distances. The interviewer was able to recall the gesturing and include it in the transcript.

Follow Through on What You Hear

As good listening skills develop the interviewer will be able to better follow up on the respondent's comments and phrasing.

Example: How to Follow Through

Interviewer: Is that a good age to get married?

Marco: I would have liked her to be more mature (older). If she were over 20 it would have been better. My son got married in 1975. He was 26 years old. That is an ideal age for a man to get married. A woman should be about 22 or 23 years of age. And if she is over 23, that is fine too. In our parts, people would get married even when they did not know what marriage was (they were too young). I would want my grandchildren to get married when they are mature, so that they understand life.

Italian Interview #1


The interviewer should follow up on the final comment by asking, "Can you be more specific? What is it your grandchildren ought to understand about life before they get married?"

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