Home > Ethnography, Interview > You do what? Building Rapport with Participants

You do what? Building Rapport with Participants

February 23, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

People often wonder how we’re able to go into people’s homes for several hours, with a video camera, and talk to them about their lives–not to mention that they are willing to show us inside their cupboards, trash cans and other spaces generally considered off-limits to the general public. We often get asked, “How do you get them to do it?”

Well, we don’t. At least we don’t ‘get’ anyone to do anything. Here’s the thing about ethnography and ethnographers. We genuinely are very, very interested in the people we visit, and we cherish what they have to tell and show us.

We’re not just interested in specific information about specific products or services. In ethnography we go into each experience with eyes and ears wide open, and without an agenda about what we expect to see, hear or experience. When we do that we get a whole lot of information that helps us really understand what our clients want to know. And if we did have expectations, the people we visit would surely pick up on that and not be as likely to share with us.

So if you want some tricks of the trade, we can share a few. It won’t necessarily make you an ethnographer, but it will help you understand the ethnographic approach.

1. Have a-wear-ness. If you show up to a participant’s house wearing dress slacks and a tie, you might not learn as much as you would have had you arrived in jeans and a sweater. On the flip side, show up to a physician’s office wearing those same jeans and you might not learn much at all. In ethnographic fieldwork aim to blend in to your surroundings. You’ll make people feel comfortable but also give yourself credibility as someone who can navigate different cultures.

2. Have a slice of humble pie. A lot of us are used to having to be the expert in daily life (how else would we do our jobs!). But when it comes to ethnography, our participants are the experts. Remember, we are trying to understand daily life to really get at how products and services are conceptualized and experienced. So what you may typically think of as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ just isn’t so during an ethnography. Stifle that urge to tell someone, “You’re not doing that right.” There’s no quicker way to stop a conversation dead in its tracks and trash the opportunity for learning.

3. They’re not subjects, they’re participants! We talk with and learn from the people we spend time with during an ethnography. Not the other way around. Remember, they are the experts.

4. We never, ever get carte blanche. Just because someone has invited us into her home, it doesn’t mean we have free reign. It’s not only impolite to wander off into spaces we haven’t received permission to see, it’s downright unethical. Especially when the use of video is involved. Honoring the privacy and confidentiality of our participants is important and something we take very very seriously.

5. Less said is best. If it’s done right, an ethnographic interview looks a lot like two people having a conversation over coffee. Normally when there is a pause in conversation people have a tendency to fill it with words. If you can resist the urge, your participant will likely tell you something you never would have known had you added your two sense.

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Categories: Ethnography, Interview
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