I spend a lot of my days interviewing people. Or rather, listening to people—coworkers, customers, and professional colleagues.
Most of these conversations stem from a research project, or a desire to improve my research skills. Regardless, I approach my interviews with the mindset that everything is important, until proven otherwise. I believe this mantra makes me a better researcher, and provides me with better research findings. Here’s why:
- If everything is important, I don’t want to miss a thing. I stay on my toes, enthralled by every single thing I’m hearing. If it’s important enough that someone is sharing it with me, it’s important enough to receive my undivided, enthusiastic attention.
- If everything is important, I’m disinclined to steer the conversation in a selfish direction. That’s not to say I throw my own interview goals out the window, but I favor the direction set forth by my participant.
- If everything is important, the conversation holds meaning for us both. My participant has a partner in me who can listen, reflect, validate, and elicit further thoughts. I get to learn something, and exit the conversation more insightful than I entered.
This mindset scales beyond conversations. A couple of years ago I described how I apply it to all sorts of data—like support emails and analytics—in Radicalizing Data. Simon Ouderkirk of WordPress shares a similar philosophy of “assuming best intent” and maintaining “optimistic curiosity” in his wonderful post for Help Scout.
By embracing optimism, we invest in the belief that what’s in front of us holds meaning.
It’s too easy to become calcified, to assume that we’ve heard it all before, to judge rather than journal. The best case scenario to assuming importance is that we gain wisdom and empathy. There is no worst case scenario.