The Avenger’s Guide to Qualitative Respondents
Anyone who’s moderated knows that a difficult respondent can bring you down while good respondents can refresh you just as fast. Unfortunately, there’s no absolute field guide out there on how to classify and tackle all these individual personalities from a qualitative perspective. So while I don’t have all the answers, I can offer you a simple and fun evaluation, one that reflects what we see day in and day out, personified through a Marvel™ous display of super egos. That’s right, the first ever Avengers Guide to Qualitative Respondents.
Editor’s Note: Anyone who knows me will immediately understand why I didn’t even think twice when the good folks at iModerate asked me if I wanted to post this article. I’m pretty sure you’ll love it as much as I did! Oh, and if anyone wants to work with me to assemble a video playing off this idea let me know…
By Brian Madden, iModerate
Anyone who’s moderated knows that a difficult respondent can bring you down while good respondents can refresh you just as fast. At iModerate, our moderators talk individually to different respondents all day long, so it’s no surprise that we come across a wide variety of personality types. How do we deal with them? Unfortunately, there’s no absolute field guide out there on how to classify and tackle all these individual personalities from a qualitative perspective. So while I don’t have all the answers, I can offer you a simple and fun evaluation, one that reflects what we see day in and day out, personified through a Marvel™ous display of super egos. That’s right, the first ever Avengers Guide to Qualitative Respondents.
If you’re a psych major you can probably rattle off The Big Five traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism – or OCEAN) a lot easier than remembering what SHIELD stands for (Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate.) But for our purposes we are going to forego some of the psych talk and define respondents as “Black Widows”, “Thors”, “Iron Men”, “Captains Americas” and “Hulks”.
Let’s begin with Black Widow, a spy played by Scarlett Johansson. Much like openness, she’s up for adventure; she’s curious, brings unique ideas to the table and is in tune with her emotions. A seemingly great respondent… until you get the feeling she’s the one interviewing you! Sometimes a Black Widow goes so far as to call out your techniques, shifting the focus to you and your questions. Often times you can get the conversation back on track with a widow by adding in phrases that show shared common sense, such as, “though this might seem obvious…” Confiding in them by disclosing why you’re seeking the information and reminding them that their opinion is highly valued also works. Stroking an intelligent respondent’s ego never hurts, so give them their credit and quickly get back to the objectives. You may get off topic for a moment, but at least they won’t beat you down.
Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth, is a demigod. Not a very relevant profession in our world, but his qualities exude that of the conscientiousness persona; Dutiful, self-disciplined and acting with purposeful/predictable behavior. You can usually count on a Thor to answer your questions and participate in a manner that reflects the norm. A typical respondent who gives typical answers makes it all too easy to coast through the conversation. It’s very tempting to go; “Q&A, Q&A – here’s your reward, thank you”- but because our job is to seek deeper insights, it’s important to stay creative and self-disciplined. You have to ‘bring the hammer down’ on yourself and use different approaches to get beyond surface answers. Asking questions that utilize the teachings of cognitive theory, trying different projective and enabling techniques, and other indirect and clever lines of questioning can help a Thor tap into his own psyche. Your persistence and creativity will pay off when you strike that lightning bolt of insight you were looking for.
Robert Downey Jr. plays a perfect Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man. A narcissistic genius, millionaire, playboy, philanthropist, Stark is a near perfect extrovert. He is outgoing and regularly “seeking the stimulation of others”. As a respondent, Iron Man can be a lot of fun and very candid, but it can be hard to keep him focused. With his mind going a hundred directions at once, Iron Man often wants to chat or joke around, even going so far as to ask about you and your personal life. The research can quickly take a back seat to chatter and amusing anecdotes. As a moderator, our job is to conduct sound research within specific time frames. It should be fun and engaging, but if someone isn’t taking it seriously, that’s a problem. We find the best bet is to not play into it. Simply deflecting the extra chit-chat by either ignoring it or by using, quick, objective and close-ended acknowledgements (as it’s important not to use encouraging language) – “understood”, “I hear you”, “Gotcha”, and “Noted” can often do the trick. Adding precursors such as “thinking critically…” or “getting focused again…” before questions can also help steer them back on course. When an Iron Man can stay focused, they have the potential to give you some of the most substantive feedback around. After all… the arc reactor in Stark’s chest keeping him alive proves he has a heart. Simply keep him on track, and he’ll speak from it.
Captain America (Chris Evans) is the original super hero in the word of Marvel™. Like agreeableness he is compassionate and extremely cooperative. He also tends to be very traditional, and after being frozen for sixty plus years, that’s understandable. Captain America isn’t very technologically savvy which can certainly put a strain on conducting smooth online qualitative research. He generally types a little slower and needs to see concepts more for memory. Occasionally when there is media involved he takes a few extra moments to get it working. The best way to deal with Captain America is to be clear, helpful and patient. A little reassurance that there is no rush and that he is doing fine can go a long way. If you can relate to him and put things in his terms he will more than likely deliver wonderful results. Even though he may shield himself from modern product concepts, he’ll lead you to good old fashion quality insight, as long as he knows you’re on his side.
Lastly we come to the Hulk played by Mark Ruffalo. The Hulk is classic neuroticism, a brilliant scientist named Bruce Banner one moment, a rage of emotions the next. Neuroticism is classified as having tendencies to experience unpleasant emotions easily such as anger and anxiety. “Hulk no like long research, Hulk was told this would take ten minutes! Where is Hulk’s reward? Hulk thinks these questions are boring and stupid!” Now you have a dilemma. Do you drop Hulk out of the airplane, or appeal to his human side? It can be hard to salvage such a beast, but sometimes all it takes is a little TLC. Try a little empathy. Apologize, and be very clear about what is to come, how long it will really take, and remind them that their efforts will be rewarded. Sometimes a little love and incentive is enough to get Bruce Banner back, just make sure you’ve got a change of clothes for him.
Is it possible for qualitative researchers to handle these individuals as well as director Nick Fury? That’s up for debate, but hopefully I’ve given you some nuggets from our qualitative research world to take into consideration. After all, knowing what you’re up against will always give you an edge.