(image by Nox Dineen)
As qualitative researchers, we’ve always valued good conversations and consider them revealing and rather important in their own right. They are also in danger of being overlooked in today’s digitised, atomised, ‘just do it’ culture. It turns out we’re not the only ones who think this.
Last week I went to the School of Life class, ‘How to have Better Conversations’. The School of Life (‘ideas to live by’) is amazing. It is based in a small shop in Bloomsbury and runs ‘a variety of programmes concerned with how to live wisely and well … a place to step back and think intelligently about these and other concerns’.
The class was very civilised and thought-provoking and covered the history of conversations, tackling difficult conversations and how conversations shape our thinking and our relationships.
Far from being a trivial matter, conversations strike at the heart of what it means to be human. Conversations that are open and honest broaden our horizons and shift how we look at both ourselves and the world (Theodore Zeldin).
Having a good conversation takes a certain commitment and practice. There were a number of ways identified that people can have better conversations:
- being curious
- not fearing vulnerability
- not assuming or judging
- adventurous openings
There are three reasons why this matters in relation to marketing research:
1. people are increasingly critical of ‘talk-based’ research, but when handled properly good conversations are intellectually more nutritious than any other form of engagement, IMHO. Conversations are a source of ‘whole person’ ideas and insights and include emotions and other non verbal elements (‘structural conversations’).
2. the rules of engagement between people and organizations are changing. People are no longer prepared to toe the line or be addressed in certain ways, so companies have to re-learn the art of conversation
3. ‘conversation’ is very widely but very loosely used in the digital realm (cf #MRS2012 today) - I am not sure that people know what a digital conversation means, let alone how it translates into the real world
Could the characteristics of better conversations outlined in the class exactly match the characteristics of good research (eg curiosity, honesty, empathy, imagination)?
More than a coincidence? Maybe.
But that is another conversation.