If Getting the Facts Means Having to Ask

If you’re familiar with the organization you’re serving, you already know the lay of the land. If not, ask around and learn who the principals are—the ones who know the most about the problems you’re tackling.

But before you finalize a conclusion, run it by other people—especially trusted associates who aren’t afraid of being honest and pointing out your errors, omissions, or what have you.

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To that I would add, “avoid one-stop thinking.” If you’ve arrived at a simple, airtight solution, look again. Keep trying to poke holes in it.

However, someone has to pay for this content. And that’s where advertising comes in. Most people consider ads a nuisance, but they do serve a useful function besides allowing media companies to stay afloat. They keep you aware of new products and services relevant to your industry. All ads in Quality Digest apply directly to products and services that most of our readers need. You won’t see automobile or health supplement ads.

Once your interview is done and transcribed (my least favorite part), it’s time to form a conclusion based on the facts you’ve gathered.

That means asking the right questions of the right people to find your answers and solve a problem. But, to paraphrase either Socrates or Donald Rumsfeld, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Critical thinking is essential to information-gathering and problem-solving.

This definition alone doesn’t get you very far down the road. But the process comprises finding and choosing the questions, skillfully asking them, and getting the story. Reporters employ critical thinking to prepare and conduct interviews. Like a reporter, you need to get to the bottom of things and—hopefully—shed some light on the solution.

When interviewing an expert (especially a gruff one, or maybe your boss), wrap your questions in modesty. “This might seem like a dumb question,” or “What do you think of A and B?” lets the subject know you value, in fact need, their opinion. Your subject may be more inclined to be charitable.

You may, and often must, ask questions that might make the subject of the interview uncomfortable or even defensive. No one wants to be blamed or take on more responsibility because of an interview. But these questions may be the best you ask.

This type of interview differs from the first because you’re trying to advance past “just the facts” to gather the interviewee’s interpretations and opinions. After gathering the basic information, you’re furthering dialogue and searching for answers, solutions, and action plans.

Let’s look at Browne and Keeley’s three basic tenets.

Nearly as important as the questions you ask is how you ask them. “Open” questions invite the subject of your interview to do the talking—which really is the point. Although establishing the salient facts may involve obtaining simple answers, try to avoid asking questions that can be simply answered yes or no. They may confirm or contradict what you already know, but they won’t add much to your information.

That last one is an especially effective format for your questions because it gets what you want—that person’s knowledge and opinion.

How do you find the right questions? Throughout the fact-finding process, critical thinking is, well, critical. When you have to find facts and assemble a report, you can also look to journalism for advice and ideas on forming an interview and telling a story. News reporters do it every day.

Published: Wednesday, July 12, 2023 – 12:03

The interpretive interview

I’m reminded of an anecdote I read in journalism school: A newspaper sent a reporter out to interview actress Vivien Leigh on an anniversary of the film Gone With the Wind. It wasn’t a tough assignment; this was not hard news. But the first question the reporter asked was, “So, what part did you play in the movie?”

If you are as knowledgeable as the person you interview, leave your expertise at the door. You’re not there to tell people what you know, however much that may be. Being an active listener begins with letting the other person do the talking, keeping your ears and eyes open, and reading between their lines.

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Your approach to organizing the critical questions and answers should mirror the same selfless spirit with which you conduct your interview. If you merely use what you already know or believe to form the story, it probably won’t take as long. But the picture will be incomplete, and your report is likely to generate or propagate misconceptions and mistakes.

Reaching a conclusion—and starting an argument

Ms. Leigh ended the interview and threw him out. Don’t be that guy.

To establish facts and reveal opinions, use the basic “five Ws” approach—who, what, where, when, and why. For journalists, the Ws form the tip of the traditional “pyramid” story construction as those facts are brought out first thing.

Pick a problem—any problem. As soon as you have one without an immediate answer, we can begin.

If your argument is logical, well-supported by facts, and based on consensus among stakeholders, you just might have a solution.