Community Communication

As social scientist, watching people and asking questions is one of our strongest tools. What better way to find out about a person than asking them? Or watching them in their everyday life? It is important however to make sure we are asking the right questions. We also must make sure we are asking the right people. What do we want to know? What experiences does this person have that would make them the right person to ask? How can I ask this question to get the best results?
One of the biggest challenges of conducting research is making sure we are getting good data. Asking questions for research can be a little different from the questions we use in everyday conversations. As such, researchers use special techniques, so we know the data we collected is accurate and appropriate for research. We could talk about the techniques in question constructions, but that’s a whole other blog post. I want to focus on what the researcher does in face-to-face interactions. Once we are ready to start asking our questions, the research must establish what is called rapport.
Rapport is basically how receptive you are when being asked questions and how receptive you are to answering questions. If you are unable to establish rapport you may find your conversation ending early, as the interviewee may become bored or generally unreceptive to your questions. It may seem obvious that you need to establish a friendly mood before you start asking questions, but it can also go the other way. Become too friendly and you may find the person you’re asking questions giving answers that aren’t 100% honest. Your overenthusiastic tone may result in your study containing more of what the interviewee thinks you want to hear – not what they truly believe. What can we do as researchers to overcome this?
As you can see, managing rapport throughout an interview can be a task of its own. When conducting interviews, researchers must be aware of their tone of voice, their body language, and their facial cues. But what other ways can rapport be threatened? Most relevant to us as guests in this community, we must be aware of our social locations and history. We must be conscious of the privilege our institution grants us. We must be conscious of the history between this community and our institutions (and by extension ourselves and this community). What can we do to overcome this? It seems to me the most important tool in the researcher’s garden shed is mindfulness and conscientiousness.

The first few minutes of this ted talk can be a helpful introduction, and provides some new thoughts on rapport.

How big of an impact do you think our history will play in establishing a connection with the community? Does is present positives and negatives?
Do you have any tips for establishing report? Any tips to avoid taking the connection too far?