A variety of skills and tips were covered in the Commons Social Change Library’s skills session about conducting informative and effective interviews. The following article from Community Radio 3CR focuses specifically on interviews regarding sensitive topics.
To avoid retraumatizing/revictimizing/triggering your guest the following steps are suggested to empower them before, during and after the interview. These steps can take up a lot of time—allow plenty of time for the sensitive interview process.
Informed Consent—be honest with your guest about everything
Begin by informing your guest: Who you are, what your platform is, and where the podcast will be shared.
Treat the interview process like a mutually respectful relationship.
- Who are you (interviewer)?
- Where are you from (publisher)?
- Why are you producing this story? (connection to issue/topic)
- What topic and key issues do you want to cover, and what will be your angle?
Further information when guest expresses interest:
- What kind of interview space will you provide (access and safety considerations)
- How will the interview process proceed from here before, during and after? (structure, check-ins and guest’s power of veto)
- How will the interview be conducted?
- What can they expect?
- How can they let you know if they are uncomfortable, or want to pause, or end the interview?
Before guest interview:
- Give your guest the option of work-shopping discussion topics or questions with you, if they are keen and have the capacity.
- Provide your guest with bullet points of the discussion points, topics or questions, and confirm with them if they are all okay.
- Avoid judgemental or blaming questions.
- Use open-ended, constructive questions, and ensure that guests know that they’re not required to answer any questions they don’t want to.
- Continue to build trust and rapport in your relationship with your guest.
- Maintain regular, gentle check-ins to confirm that your guest is continuing to consent to the interview process, and that they have adequate support if they become triggered (outside of the interview process—from friends, family or support services).
All interviews require prior discussion about how guests would prefer to identify in the context of the interview—but sensitive topic interviews require extra care.
Discuss with your guest if they will need to use a substitute name, voice distortion or a voice substitute (i.e. someone else reading their pre-scripted answers/story on their behalf).
Also discuss with them if you will need to take any other steps to conceal their identity (e.g. omit geographical and other identifying information/details?)
- Allow an open-ended amount of time for interview
- Begin by thanking your guest for speaking with you
- Remind guests they’re not required to answer questions or talk about topics they don’t want to—even if they previously agreed to
- Let your guest know they can take all the time they need, and pause the interview when they need to
- Begin the interview with non sensitive topics—establish trust/rapport and allow time for you both to get grounded in the interview space.
- Remember this is not about you, or what you think—let the silence sit when appropriate, and always give your guest time to finish their thought, or tell you what they need.
- Avoid judgemental or blaming questions/comments
- Respond with affirmatives: “I hear you.” etc.
- Nonverbal cues, like nodding or supportive facial expressions can helpful in providing support without making distracting sounds that will interfere with getting a clean recording of what your guest is saying
- Before the end of the interview try to ground your guest back into the present moment.
- What is your day-to-day life like now?
- What do you do to unwind and feel safe?
- What’s the best part of your life right now?
- Tell me about the last time you laughed really hard?
- Do you have any plans for after this interview?
- At the end say ‘Thank you for sharing this with me.”
Note: Your guest may need breaks within the interview or they may need to end for the day and come back another day to complete the interview. Building genuine rapport and sharing stories can take time. Maintain check-ins re consent and support
- Let your guest listen to and approve the interview before you publish.
- Make any changes they recommend.
- Provide them with the option to veto the whole project before, or anytime after, publishing—if they need to.
- Maintain check-ins regarding consent and support during and after the publishing process.
Self care & boundaries
- Always refer guests to professional support services if required—you are an interviewer, not a counselor.
- Maintain check-ins with yourself re triggering and self care/support.
- How to Conduct Interviews: Tips and Checklist
- Conducting Interviews for Articles, Research & More
- 3CR Community Radio and 3CR Earth Matters
- Listening to the artivists: Podcasts about activism and the arts
- ChangeMaker Chats – The ChangeMakers podcast interviews people who are striving for social change across the world