The Art of Interviewing

Sommerville Johnston is the founder of Aspen Roots Collective.  She is a Licensed Professional Counselor as well as Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, and wilderness instructor. She is passionate about creating opportunities for women to connect with the natural world, to explore their inner-landscapes, and to discover within themselves a strength and beauty more powerful than they previously knew. 

While listening to a particularly good interviewer in a podcast the other day, it occurred to me that I’ve never considered the art of interviewing before… which is funny because my job as a therapist is very similar: a series of questions.

What I find myself drawn to is the ability of an interviewer to ask questions from a place of curiosity, and to craft the questions in such a way that the interviewee is better able to articulate the answers, like providing the bump and set to yield the best spike … This is different from the interviewer who wants to prove a point, highlight their own insights, be the focus of the interview, maybe even have their own ego stroked.

The skilled interviewer is the one who almost fades into the background because the responses from the interviewee are so insightful, well-articulated, profound, provocative, that we don’t even remember the question. Sure, you need an interesting subject to start with, but I think of Krista Tippet from On Being, and I rarely remember her questions, yet I am struck by the answers she receives. What is it about her?… And the questions she sets to her guests? You can literally hear the curiosity in her voice, her excitement to discover what wisdom her guest has to impart, what life experience will blow her mind. She studies up on her guests. She comes to the interview with some idea of who they are, or what they have done, but she lets that knowledge inform her exploration, not limit it.

I have begun to apply the same “art of interviewing” techniques to my adventure programs, therapy sessions, and training. The result is that  the participant becomes the primary focus… I believe this could be an amazing life skill practiced by every one.

What would it be like to bring this attitude to our longest and deepest relationships? To the people we feel we know, we’ve known sometimes maybe our whole lives… How often have I visited my parents’ home eager to share all that I have experienced in the big wide world? To insist that they listen to my new favorite band? To force them to eat kale? To push the benefits of mindfulness, yoga, you get the idea…To basically shout “look at me!”

Underneath this is a natural bid for love. (The Gottman Institute has some great research on these bids for love, well worth reading if you’re interested in developing or supporting healthy relationships.) These bids for love are not wrong, but if it’s where all of our, or most of our focus lies, perhaps we are missing out on the amazing wisdom our loved ones have to share with us.

As we move into the holiday season and time with family, what a gift it would be to approach your loved ones with curiosity. 

Try the art of the interview– ask them questions to reveal their experiences, their drivers, their motivations, their fears, their dreams. You may be surprised at the gift you receive!


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