Can We Uncover Truth Without Connection?

06 Nov 2013|Added Value

I have a colleague with an uncanny knack for making research participants cry. And she’s just as kind and empathetic as most great moderators.  But what she does especially well is connect with the people she’s interviewing; she has an air about her that invites honesty and openness.

Our responsibility is to uncover the “truth” of consumer experiences. The kernel of truth that yields insight is what we hang our hats on – and it’s what truly defines client success. And it only comes through meaningful connections with people.

Added Value recently conducted a study for a leading American condom maker around sexual behaviors. It’s difficult to prompt honest discussion about sex, and even harder to hear something new. We designed a qualitative approach that emphasized building connections with each participant. We met them multiple times throughout the course of the study. We got to know them socially. They got to know us. And we uncovered fresh perspectives. The client heard things they’d not heard before. They heard open and honest dialogue among men and women in a surprisingly short time. And they uncovered new opportunities to grow their brand.

We’ve identified a few crucial things to keep in mind in building connections:

Stop being “nice”. Real connection comes from challenging, pushing, and questioning – respectfully, but insistently. Healthy conflict is a necessary part of any relationship, and too often our research conversations so urgently avoid conflict that they stay shallow, boring, and unproductive. We’ve made it a goal to make sure NO group discussion or one-on-one feels like a polite dinner party. Clients deserve more, and so do participants. As we’ve looked for more chances to really, deeply engage, we’ve been rewarded with amazingly fresh conversations. And more thoughtful exchanges.

Drop your guard. Old models of market research create a barrier between moderators and respondents – the moderator sits at the head of the table, directs the discussion, and acts as objective guide. Maybe this is a hold-over from market research’s roots in psychotherapy. But we’ve had great results when we sit down alongside the participants, abandon our pretense at objectivity, and become “participant moderators”. It’s more a question of “facilitating” than “moderating”, and the resulting connections are much deeper.

Craft a great guide and approach – then ditch it. We work hard to match the right approach to the right insight goal. But that approach is based on our pre-conceptions about what we’ll encounter. We must be willing and able to adapt our approach – not just shift it, but drastically change it – once we get into conversations with participants. We can’t connect with them if we can’t follow them where they want to take us.

We believe these are important shifts in how we approach our craft. Our clients and participants deserve better than shallow conversations that may or may not uncover something new.  Sometimes connections make people cry – but sometimes they generate peals of laughter.  Let’s remember our passion for connection and transformation and bring it to each encounter we have.


Written by Tommy Stinson, Senior Vice President and Director of Qualitative Insights, Added Value US


prev next