Handy user interview tool: the parrot

At UX Brighton last night, Judy Rees introduced a very simple little technique for getting richer findings from user interviews. If you don’t already use it, it’s a potentially useful addition to the user research toolkit.

Judy calls the technique “parrot phrasing”, and it works like this.

Say you’re interviewing a user about their opinions on a particular topic. When they mention something you’d like to explore further, repeat back the last few words they said exactly as they said them, without paraphrasing. It might be appropriate to use a curious, inquiring tone of voice, depending on the context.

That’s it. The effect is that the interviewee is unobtrusively prompted to elaborate on things they’ve said.

Parrot image by DigitalART2 on Flickr

"...it should just work like Amazon?"

For example:

Interviewee: “…it’s quite difficult to keep up with everything, and I tend to find that I only shop for food once a week, what with all the usual evening stuff going on…”

Interviewer: “The usual evening stuff?”

Interviewee: “Yeah, giving the kids their dinner, cleaning up…it’s easier on Fridays because we’re both home from work early.”

Judy split us into pairs and we spent five minutes trying out the technique on each other. The consequences were interesting. As an interviewee, having my own words echoed back to me felt like part of a natural conversation, far more so than had the researcher used their own phrasing for questions.

It meant I was less conscious of being in an interview situation; I felt more in control, leading me to talk more freely and perhaps be less likely to say things that I thought the interviewer might be looking for.

Having my own words echoed back also gave me a subtle sense that the researcher was paying attention and respecting what I was saying. Again, this made me more likely to speak freely.

If you’re not convinced, go and try it out on someone now.

Parrot image by DigitalART2

1 comment to Handy user interview tool: the parrot

  • Judy is absolutely right here! This is helping so much and also gives you the opportunity to try and standardise words having a similar meaning. Which helps data mining from interviews! We at Agredea make it our business to provide web-based research tools. Our new Interview tool that is soon to be released makes use of exactly these type of features. And like Judy suggests: go an try it out; it works!

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