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“Caring” is the Essence of the Art of Qualitative Research

July 12, 2010

When seeking information to support product development or marketing, there is currently a lot of buzz about online methodologies that enable communication with a large number of contacts. At times, one of these “tools” may be the best for the job at hand. However, I believe that the impersonal nature of these interactions limits the depth of the information that can be gained.

I know that when I am gathering data to help make a personal or business decision I mostly depend on the opinions of a few expert acquaintances – preferably, people with whom I have a caring relationship.  I certainly have the ability to survey everyone I know and doing so would generate a lot of data. However, I put my trust in and choose to act on my analysis of what the most knowledgeable and caring people I can find share with me.

A piece of wisdom I learned as a personal growth seminar facilitator states that:

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”

I think that this statement applies in all areas of life. In terms of market research I believe that it is the essential element that distinguishes a master level qualitative practitioner and that it goes much deeper than you might expect.

Establishing “rapport” with participants is one axiom for moderators. The dictionary definition of rapport mentions establishing a common point of reference. I believe that establishing “caring” is an even deeper level of connection than rapport. And, that to do so consistently with a wide range of people is more than a skill, it is an authentic way of being that some moderators demonstrate and others don’t.

I tried to describe how to establish caring with medical patients in an article I wrote a couple of years ago for a magazine called “Views” (a publication of the QRCA).  However, I don’t think that it is really possible to effectively teach this skill, unless the person has a certain level of personal awareness, intuitiveness and willingness and natural ability to engage with people.

I also believe that it is true that when the participant “cares” about the topic, product, service or the objective of the research, that the information that they share is “deeper” and more valuable. It is impossible to force someone to care. However, a skillful and “caring” moderator naturally says things and behaves in ways that encourage participants to respond in kind. This results in information that is more authentic and truthful.

My clients call me when they have important decisions to make and want a professional analysis of what their potential customers think and feel. I believe that focusing on establishing “caring” in all aspects of a project helps me to generate deep and insightful data. It also makes my work fulfilling and often leaves me smiling at the end of the day.

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