The one question I ask in all my interviews

In a world where people are shouting sweet nothings into the internet each day, I thought now was as good a time as any to share some insight into how I conduct my interviews.

Recently, all of my interviews have taken place over Zoom. Weirdly, Zoom calls aren’t a good replacement for face-to-face interactions, but they are a vast improvement over conventional journalist/subject interactions. Before COVID-19, a cellular phone call was acceptable; today all of my interactions are face-to-face – albeit through a screen.

I spend anything between five minutes and five days preparing for each interview I conduct. Usually, I’m sitting across the table (screen?) from the CEO of a startup. Maybe it’s a former politician who plays up to the camera, or maybe he/she was a former coder who still needs media training to convey their message adequately. Whoever my subject is, I always end my interviews with the same question:

“Is there anything I haven’t asked that you want to share with me?”

It’s amazing what people tell me once I give them the opportunity to share something that matters to them. Most of the time, these are the insights that end up in my story as a quotation best encompassing their ideology or personal story. 

I believe there are two main takeaways from this:

  1. You never know what answers people have outside of your planned questions. Like life, you may prepare all you want but you need to be open to expecting the unexpected.
  2. You should never underestimate how much people are willing to share with strangers. Like life, a lot of people are yearning to be heard – all they need is a little encouragement.

I think of these a lot when I’m speaking to people from around the world. It’s an important way to practice humility in your knowledge and compassion among your company. I am grateful that I can take skills I learn in my profession and (and at least try to!) integrate them into my personal relationships among my friends and family.

A quote most attributed to Epictetus puts it nicely: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Looking around the world today, it might feel like a lot of us have forgotten this. Indeed, how many times do we feel people act as if the opposite were true?

Asking others this simple question in each of my interviews allows me to take a step back from the moment, for just a second, and let others take the reins. At that moment, I learn more about the person opposite me – and myself – than I could by making them answer everything I thought I knew. 

It’s time we all start embracing what we don’t know and give others the chance to share their insights. We might just learn something. 

About the Author
James Spiro is a journalist and editor at CTech by Calcalist. With degrees from the UK and USA, he has a background in journalism, public relations, and political analysis. He has a weekly newsletter that goes out on Fridays (www.JamesSpiro.com/subscribe) and is active on Twitter: @JamesSpiro
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