In my line of work as a reporter I interview people for a variety of stories. Sometimes the topics are of a sensitive nature. It could be about the death or disappearance of a loved one. Perhaps someone has just lost their home to a fire or they were brutally attacked.
Sometimes the interview takes places while the pain is still fresh. At other times interviews are conducted at a point where the subject has had some time to reflect on their heartache. If you are put in a situation as a writer where you have to interview someone about a sensitive topic, keep these tips in mind:
Relax and stay calm. Interviewing someone about a sensitive matter can be unnerving and intimidating if you don’t have much practice at it. As you go about your daily life you may find that most people portray themselves in an upbeat manner- even if they’re hiding some pain. If you’ve set out to talk with someone about something painful, he or she may share some very emotional information with you. Be prepared for it and remain calm and relaxed. You won’t want to come off as uncomfortable so that the interviewee remains comfortable talking with you.
Show compassion. It seems like common sense, but it’s important to show compassion. In an effort to remain calm you may appear cold and uncaring. You’ll want to keep your composure, but don’t be so calculated in your approach that you don’t allow yourself to feel what the person is saying. While you’re not there to be a therapist the interviewee may seek some compassion and understanding. If you tell someone you’re sorry for their loss, they can tell if you really mean it. Be genuine.
Listen and respond. Really listen to your interviewee and have a conversation with them. As they pour their heart out they won’t want to feel as though they’re only responding to a list of questions. The more you’re engaged in the conversation the better. Stay in control of the interview, but see where the conversation leads you. You’ll get more information than you were expecting when you first set out to do the interview.
Prepare your questions and choose your words wisely. Having several questions prepared will make sure you get all of the pertinent information you need and it also helps you keep the conversation going if need be. When asking your questions be sure to avoid words and phrases that may hurt and inflict more pain. Of course you want to gather information that reveals the person’s emotions, but be sensitive with your choice of words. You don’t have to make the person cry in order to get a great quote.
Don’t assume. You never know how a subject will react so it’s best to be prepared for the unexpected. Someone you expect to be totally hysterical may maintain a calm demeanor. On the other hand an interviewee may be more emotional than you expected. Some sources for interviews will be more willing and capable of expressing their feelings while others are not. It is best if you are prepared for whatever tone the interviewee sets by his or her demeanor.