Why did I choose this tool?
My ex-girlfriend and I used to struggle in conversations because I would often interrupt her. I would have a tendency to speak more quickly than her and therefore say something before she started to speak or before she had finished speaking. At times, we would set rules for ourselves to go into “journalist mode,” which meant that one person would play the journalist while the other person would be the interviewee. I found that by playing the character role of the journalist/interviewer, I was able to step back from saying my opinion and become more open to hearing her experience. As a result, I was able to hear things that she wanted to say but was maybe afraid to say or just took longer for her to put into words. It helped me better understand who she was and what she really wanted underneath.
How does this apply to being a trainer?
As a trainer, we engage in conversations with people who communicate at different speeds than we do. When we communicate more quickly than the other person, we have a tendency to jump in and cut them off, interrupting their speech. It could be a participant who speaks more slowly because they don’t feel confident in their English skills or a fellow trainer who takes a while to open up with their opinions because they like to absorb a lot of information before saying something. On the other hand, if we tend to communicate more slowly than the other person, they may interrupt us. This could be a participant who processes information very quickly or a trainer who gets excited about an idea and can’t stop talking. This shift in mindset to being that of a journalist and interviewee can help both sides to readjust their speeds to align and communicate at the same pace, increasing the chances that each side will hear each other and feel heard.
A journalist collects information and turns it into stories that they then share with the public. One of the most important tools for a journalist is the interview—where the journalist asks a person many questions with the intention of hearing their perspective. Beyond the interview, the journalist puts a high priority on clearly hearing what the people are trying to say—after all, if s/he does not collect the information well, then the story will not be accurate.
The journalist mode is an example of role play, which is used in many learning environments. In role-play, people in the situation assume different roles and behave as if they were in those roles. This can help people get outside of how they would act and imagine how someone else in that position would act. This temporary identity can help people behave in ways that they normally would not. Herbert Kelman, the former Director of the Program on International Conflict Analysis and Resolution at Harvard, wrote in 1967 that role-playing seemed to be one of the “most promising” alternatives to the deception in other social experiments.
In an interview, the interviewer role is the one who asks questions and seeks to hear the other side. The goal is to collect as much information as possible. The interviewee role is the one who answers the questions and opens up to share information—thoughts, feelings, perspectives, stories, behaviors, beliefs, etc. The interviewer typically is in a state of curiosity. The interviewee is typically in a state of open disclosure. The attention is almost solely placed on the interviewee. This can differ from normal, balanced conversation, where the attention bounces back and forth between the participants. However, if that is not happening naturally, perhaps this role-play could be effective.
The nice thing about this journalist mode role-play is that it doesn’t have to require the active participation of the person with whom you are speaking. It could be two-way, in a conversation where you say, “I realize that I have been interrupting you (or you have been interrupting me) and I want to make sure that I (or you) don’t do that anymore and so therefore I will assume somewhat of a ‘journalist/interviewer’ role and you as the ‘interviewee,’ (or vice versa), is that ok?” However, it could also be done on your own, where in your head you notice that either you have been interrupting too much or the other person is interrupting you too much, and you switch into the interviewer or interviewee mode by yourself. It may be a little more difficult to switch into the interviewee mode on your own, as the person may continue to interrupt you, but you can remember that what the interviewee has to say is important and have more persistence towards saying it even if the other person isn’t asking.
This can also be done as a standalone exercise where you and a partner time yourselves and practice with one person as interviewer and the other as interviewee, and then after the allotted time, switch.
- Do you have a tendency to interrupt or to be interrupted?
- How do you feel when you think about slowing down the speed of your conversation?
- How do you feel when you think about speeding up the speed of your conversation?
- How do you feel when you think about someone interrupting you?
- How do you feel when you think about someone taking too long to say what they mean?
- Have you ever interviewed someone? If so, for how long and in which contexts?
- Have you ever been interviewed? If so, for how long and in which contexts?
- Who is one person in your life that always seems to interrupt you?
- Who is one person in your life that you always seem to interrupt?
- When you are the trainer, how do you react when a participant interrupts you?
- When you are the trainer, how do you react when a fellow trainer interrupts you?
- When you are the trainer, how do you react when one participant interrupts another?
- When you are the trainer, how do you react when a participant says that you’re interrupting them?
- When you are the trainer, how do you react when a fellow trainer says that you’re interrupting them?
How to apply it in everyday life
- Ask your friend if you can call him/her and interview him/her for 15 minutes about a topic in their life that you’re really curious to learn more about.
- Ask your friend if s/he will call you and interview you for 15 minutes about a topic in your life that they are really curious to learn more about.
- In your own head, one night take the interviewer/interviewee mode when interacting with your parents, romantic partner, or another close person in your life and see what you learn.
- Try to do this on various platforms—not just in person, but also via chat, phone call, video call, or email. See if the feeling is the same and if it helps you better hear the other person’s experience or better share your experience.