Communication between interviewer and interviewee. Research interview is a complex process depended on many different factors such as time and atmosphere of interview, the mood of the respondents, his openness and willingness to participate in research process, qualification and responsibility of interviewers and etc. Certainly, we can't control all these multiple factors. However, it is important to take them into account in data analysis. Therefore question about communication between interviewer and respondent very important point in theories of qualitative approach.
The process of interview has a special structure. First of all there are two participants of this process: interviewer and respondent. Interviewer as a representative of research group initially is more interesting and involved in communication. Therefore the one of important task of highly qualified interviewer make the process of interview interesting for both participants. Also interview has to help answering on research questions. In order to answer on those questions, interviewer organized interview in own way to fulfill task. Therefore there are different strategies of interviewer that influence on the result of interview. I have interviews from investigation of Chinese student in the frame of research "Future Agents of Cultural Change? Chinese Students in Europe" by Chris Swader and Herwig Reiter (BIGSSS, Bremen, Germany) for analyze. Those examples are different approaches of interviewer to process of interview.
Firstly, I give brief description of interview structure according to problem-centered-interview approach. After it, I will try to distinguish types of interviewer in our six examples. And also I will attempt describe mistakes of interviewers and useful methods.
Approach of problem-centered-interview suggest attempting to neutralize contradictory between "being directed by theory or being open-minded" [Witzel 2000: P. 1] and, consequently, include elements of both deductive and inductive methodologies. There are 4 elements of problem-centered-interview: preformulated introductory question, that display research question in general and give frame of interview; general exploration, when interviewer ask question, mentioned at first step by interviewee; ad-hoc questions, that necessary to ask about left topic .
In our examples all interviewers try to begin interview with introductory question. But in some cases it lead to simple enumeration of questions or asking too general questions and gives result of misunderstanding of respondent. After it all interviewers employ general exploration and ad-hoc questions as method and ask more detailed questions. But there are advantages and disadvantages of it. They will be considered further.
Since beginning of the interview very important part that influence on all process I should consider it more detailed. Among considered interview I met two general strategies of beginning. The first type is when interviewer begins with one or several general questions providing such type of telling as a story. It is very useful, but often interviewer can't clearly explain what he meant (later we consider it as one of interviewers mistakes). The second type emerges when interviewer begin with concrete questions that require short answer. It is danger because it can lead to question-answer communication without meaningful involvement respondent in the process of interview during all time of interview. Consequently interviewer can't bring understanding of life-world of respondent that negatively influence on quality of data (qualitative interview transforms into quantitative interview).
Now we consider models of interviewer's behavior. There are following types of interviewers in our examples:
Involved and empathic (provide own assessment of the situation, actions, character of respondent. Try to guess answer of respondent). For example, it is interview number 02.
Professional (keep distance with interviewer, neutral relation, questions providing detailed answers and expression of respondent's opinion and experience).
They are interviews number 04, 06, 07, 10.
Inattentive (forget important information about respondent, question doesn't provide detailed answer). In our case the reason of this behavior, is likely, bad English of interviewer. This approach to respondent can disorder cooperation between interviewee and interviewer, and also lead to mistrust. However, especially trusting relationship between two participants can produce useful information about action, experience and perceptions of respondent. More over "trust relationship promotes the respondent's capability to remember and motivates self-reflection" [Witzel 2000: P. 3]. It is the interview number 03.
Certainly one interviewer may has different models of behavior in different interviews. For example, in first interview he could be worry very much and make a lot of mistakes. But for third interview he accumulated enough professional experience and uses absolute different model of communication with respondent. In addition, I should note that interviewer and respondent in our examples have similar social status (Chinese student in Germany). It is specific for such kind of research. On the one hand, it help to make relation between interviewer and interviewee more confident, that good for all process. On the other hand, it make interviewer to use value-judgments. It is negative phenomenon (we also consider it later).
Mistakes of interviewers:
Before description of interviewer's mistakes I have to remark that often in transcripts we met strange phrases and questions. Probably it is because of mistranslation.
Let's start with mistakes in the beginning of the interview.
A lot of questions at beginning instead of description of general idea of research. The result of it is that respondent doesn't know what is question he should answer firstly and how.
I: Many Chinese students come here to study. Being one of them, could you please tell us anything special about your experiences or maybe any unusual stories that you have encountered starting from the moment you made the decision to come to Germany up until now? For example, why did you make the decision to come to Germany? Did you run into any difficulties when organizing your studies abroad? Did you have any people who helped you? And after coming to Germany, how did you manage to organize your life and studies here? How did you adjust to life in a different culture? How did you cope with difficulties that emerged from living in a different society?
F: Hm, is this a general question?
I: Yes, it is.
F: I thought there will only be 'Yes' or 'No' questions?
I: No, the questions are not only in 'Yes' or 'No' format.
F: This is a very general question, how should I respond to it? Let me think for a secondâ€¦ [07: 15 - 34]
I: Can you tell us how the idea of going to Germany came to your mind for the first time, or stated in other words, what was your first impression of Germany? Why did you choose Germany as your place of destination?
K: In fact, it took me only three days to make the decision. [02: 4 - 9]
Absent of description of general idea of the research. The result of it that respondent doesn't know what kind of question to expect and how answer. Also he doesn't know why this question he should answer.
X: I want to ask some â€¦mumâ€¦what drive you to make a decision here?
M: What driveâ€¦After the graduation, I worked in Qing Dao for three years. You know, now in China, in a university, the competition is higher than before. We have to work hard to get a high position, so you must have a Post Doctor experience and you have to publish better articles, papers. So I think I need to go abroad to improve myself. Yeah, to rich my background. I think it's necessary to go out.
X: OK. According to what you have said, you come here for
getting a better work (future). During this period, do you have some special stories or special experiences?
M: What? [03: 65 - 80]
In this example, misunderstanding probably arises because using of interviewer of strange phrase like "special stories" or "what drive you to make a decision here"
Using of value-judgments and expression of interviewer's opinion. It is problem for research, because in this case influence on respondent is maximal.
K: In fact, it took me only three days to make the decision.
I: That was really fast. [02: 9 - 11]
I: Right, in my opinion, you are the kind of person who is willing to try out new things, for example deciding to study abroad. You also seem to prefer making decisions on your own. Maybe those are exactly the character traits that Chinese students are missing. Other people might think that someone is going abroad only to please the parents or to just do what other people do.
K: I am very different in this case. [02: 235 - 242]
I: It seems to me that a lot of Chinese students experience this kind of pressure from their family. [02: 596 - 597]
X: It's very tough.
M: Yeah, it is. It's not funny but it's a kind of experience.
X: OK. [03: 139 - 142]
Interviewer tries to guess answer of respondent. It can lead to substitution of respondent answer to interviewer's guess.
K: Originally, I had planned to get everything done in three months, but there were some problems with the mailing service.
K: Ya,this was another small problem, but it wasn't my fault. So, in total it took me four months. [02: 92 - 95]
I: You found out that you needed more knowledge to be able to work better. Is that the reason why you continued studying? [02: 645 - 646]
Using of question leading to certain answer (leading questions)
I: Do you find that Germans always follow rules?
K: Very much. (Laughing and nodding heavily)
I: For example? [02: 362 - 366].
May be here interviewer should ask more soft and general question like "How you think, do Germans have particular features?" and if respondent answers "yes" continue question "What kind of those features? Please, give examples".
Interrupting of respondent. The result of it is that we can lose important information, proposition, opinions because it.
K: In general I think this is true. In Chinese culture men were more powerful than women. [I: How do you feel about this?] In fact, there are tough women and weak men as well. [I: So is it just a problem of helping each other?] Yeah, the general picture may be that men are strong and women weak, but there are always exceptions. [02: 557 - 561]
Forgetting important information about respondent
X: Are you married?
M: not single. Yes, as I have already mentioned, I am not single.
X: Hehe, right. [03: 591 - 595]
It is very bad point because interviewer are sleeping and showing absent of interest to respondent. Consequently, respondent losing interest and answer shortly without involving.
Forgetting own role by interviewer
I: Lots of my friends told me that their Chinese friends which are now in China, always said that the best thing about studying in Europe is that you don't need a passport for travel.
P: Yes, because of this Schengen visa.
I: It's the most attractive thing for them.
P: One of, I have to say that. [10: 79 - 87]
In the general situation of interview it is not good (using of own life-experience in the process of communication with respondent). But in the situation when we have interviewer and respondent in similar positions and with similar social statuses (both of them Chinese students) it is can help set more confidence relation. And in this case communication isn't interview but something resembling focus-group with two participants (because both were affected similar factors and conditions).
Also there are different types of respondents. Some of them open to interviewer and readily respond. Opposite type of respondents is close and gives only short general answer. They also avoid giving example.
I: Your Parents didn't want to let you come, right?
A: No. I am a boy, not a girl. So my family supported my own decision.
I: It has been more than half a year since you came here. Did you meet some
A: Yes. I know quite a lot Chinese here. I have definitely friends here.
I: Are most of them Chinese?
A: Yes, most of them are Chinese.
I: Are they classmates or colleges or someone else?
A: Of courseâ€¦ they are all from University Bremen. But they are not all
from my department.
I: Basically, they are your schoolmates.
A: What are schoolmates?
I: The People, who work or study in the same school or university.
A: Ok. Yes, they are all my schoolmates.
I: Besides Chinese, are there some foreign friends?
A: Yes. There are some nice Germans from my department. We get along quite
well. [13: 95 - 124]
I: How do you know them?
A: Through friends. The Friend of my friend.
I: You mean your Chinese friends or German friends?
A: It happened also with the German friends, but in most cases with my
Chinese friends. Because I know more Chinese than Germans. [13: 216 - 223]
Interviewer should work with all types of respondent. For effective work he should hire different methods of improving interview communication. Therefore I consider advantages of interviewers that I met in our examples.
Using of projective question
I: Did you ever feel that if you were a girl, you would get more help and things would be easier for you? [02: 563 - 564]
It is very useful instrument. Interviewer make respondent think about unreal situation. It helps research to get more relevant opinion about research topic.
Using common experience for decrease probability that respondent give wrong answer
I: So when you plan to go back, is your family one reason for doing that? Most of us are the only child in the family. [02: 795 - 796]
It is useful instrument for working with delicate questions.
Elaboration and paraphrase of respondent words. It can lead to more deep understanding of his opinion.
I: What do you mean? Are you trying to say that your social environment changed from a quite active and noisy one to a quiet one?
F: Exactly. [07: 210 - 213]
X: So you mean in this process, you met a lot of difficulties.
M: â€¦eh... [03: 149 - 151]
I: Also the family priority?
P: Right, that's what I mean. Priority of family, of friends, actually very close with people. [10: 157 - 160]
Using information about respondent, getting early for further questions
I: You told me before that your German friend told you that some of his friends can take care of you when you're coming. [10: 89 - 90]
I: You mentioned that you spend a lot of time with your friend, what do you usually do after work with them? [10: 207 - 208].
It is useful because respondent understand that his stories useful and interesting for interviewer.
Using of phrases that help to switch to other topic
Ok, let's move on to the next topic. It is the difference between being male and female. Men and women play different roles in German society. Would you agree or what do you think regarding this topic? to You can talk about your own experience or about German society? [06: 444 - 448]
Providing of examples
Examples are important part of interview process and result. On the one hand they help respondent to prove his position. On the other hand they are important ways to understand life-world of interviewee.
I: For example?
D: Hmm...what would be a simple example, maybe the streetcars or the stops of the streetcars. [06: 499 - 502]
After interview interviewer write transcript about his perception of respondent and situation at whole. This also useful instrument for analyze of communication between interviewer and respondent. In the second report devoted this topic Olya emphasizes: " In postscript interviewer as a rule gives some notes about entourage and also additional information about respondent. Through his/her words the analyst should catch interviewer's attitude to respondent and try to understand a link between interviewer's influence on respondent's answers. For example in the interview â„-14 interviewer wrote in the postscript his own opinion about respondent: â€•I think his experience living in Germany is very important for the transformation of his way of thinking, though he has not realized it (14: 681-683). Maybe it's not perfect example illustrating interview's attitude towards respondent, but here we can see interview's reflection after conversation (maybe condemned opinion - not realized it)." It is very important point especially when researcher (who analyze gathered data) and interviewer is different people. Researcher doesn't know something more than about interview than transcript. And information from postscript can help him in right understanding of complex answer and also answers to delicate questions.
In conclusion, communication between interviewee and interviewer is very important and responsible part of research. Therefore we should hire qualified interviewers that gather more relevant data and decrease influence on respondent. And also we should take into account that what how interviewer communicate with respondent influence on the data when we analyze them and write report.