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Free Attitude Interview Manual - 1

The Free Attitude Interview Ineke Buskens

The Free Attitude Interview in context The term Free Attitude Interview technique is a translation of the Dutch term: "Vrije Attitude Gesprek" as used by Vrolijk, Dijkema and Timmerman (1980). The Free Attitude Interview developed its characteristic form during an industrial psychological research, the so-called Hawthorne Research in 1929 in the United States. The researchers discovered that when they gave the interviewees the freedom to speak, the information obtained became more relevant than when they would use a structured questionnaire. This open type of interview provided them with the type of information, which could be used to solve problems in the labour situation. Carl Rogers, the psychologist, affirmed the method in 1941 again. He stressed the importance of the interview technique as a means of reflecting the respondent’s feelings in a therapeutic context (Vrolijk, Dijkema and Timmerman 1980). The F.A.I. as explained in this manual follows the model of “Het Vrije Attitude Gesprek, with one exception. Where the Dutch interview model distinguishes between a summary and a reflection as separate techniques, in this manual the two techniques have been drawn into one: the reflective summary (see: p 4). The Free Attitude Interview Technique, also described as a non-directive controlled depth interview, can be used as a qualitative research interview. The term qualitative research derives much of its meaning from the qualitative -quantitative research dichotomy, prevalent in research discourse. Both the terms qualitative and quantitative are used to refer to techniques, methods, methodologies and paradigms in research. This dichotomy however is not so simple as it may seem. The fact that the F.A.I. is a qualitative interview technique for instance, does not imply that only qualitative researchers will make use of it. Sometimes researchers adhering to a quantitative methodology do make use of qualitative techniques in the exploratory phase of their research. It is also possible to use a quantitative technique in a qualitative approach. Methods are underdetermined by paradigms and paradigms are underdetermined by methods (Smaling 1992). To define qualitative research, can be a complicated issue and will be beyond the scope of this text. A few points will be made to contextualise this interviewing technique as a qualitative research technique. One can say that in a qualitative research approach the researcher tries to relate directly to the phenomena in reality, whereas in a quantitative approach the researcher tries to measure the degree in which certain aspects she assumes the phenomena consists of, are present in reality. As characteristics of qualitative approaches, one could mention: Qualitative research is oriented towards an insider's perspective; The contextualisation of the process of knowledge construction is emphasised; The research design is open and flexible; Validity and reliability of the research results depend to a high degree on the researchers’ skills and sensitivity; The scope of the research tends to be of small scale. The F.A.I. is not the only qualitative interview researchers have to their disposal. However, it is advisable to master the F.A.I. as the basic interview technique before one takes up the more penetrating, confronting and participatory qualitative interview techniques. The F.A.I. is not used exclusively by researchers. Training in the F.A.I. should develop in the trainee an attitude of open-mindedness and provide her with essential communication skills. The Free Attitude

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Interview Technique can therefore also be effectively used in the training and practice of social workers, therapists, lawyers, journalists, physicians and managers.

The Free Attitude Interview: Characteristics The interview is a verbal technique to obtain information. It is important to realise that western interviewing techniques are developed in a western context. In this tradition the preferential channels of education and information gathering, seem to depend heavily on verbal communication. This is not necessarily always the case in the context where one plans to do research. Cultural differences will have methodological repercussions. When planning to use a F.A.I. for instance, one would have to consider whether the F.A.I. would be an appropriate technique in the specific research context; whether it would yield the information one is after. This consideration responds in a qualitative research context to the traditional (quantitative) methodological norm of research validity. The results of a F.A.I. can be considered reliable when it can and will be conducted well. It is obvious that an interview, which has not been reliably conducted, cannot be valid either. The F.A.I., being non-directive in nature, opens the space for the respondent to intervene and for the researcher to respond flexibly and sensitively. It is therefore possible for researcher and respondent to assess and negotiate issues of reliability and validity during the research process. When we want to classify interviews qua structure, using as criterion the degree in which the interviewer is more or less directive, we can distinguish 3 types: 1) The standardised questionnaire 2) The semi-standardised questionnaire 3) The non-standardised, free, non-directive interview In terms of the content we differentiate between interviews, which glean facts, and interviews, which explore opinions. We can also differentiate between the person-to-person interview on the one hand and the group discussion and focus group interview on the other hand. The interview may be held personally, by post or by telephone. The Free Attitude Interview can be characterised as a person-to-person method to obtain information concerning an opinion, while the interviewer is non-directive. The Free Attitude Interview Technique can be used in a two-person interview, as well as in a group discussion. The interviewer summarises, reflects, stimulates and asks for clarification. Within the framework of the opening question the interviewee has all the freedom to explore her own ideas and suggest new topics, which may be, according to her, of importance to the opinion expressed. The interviewer is not allowed to ask new questions during the interview. The main interviewer qualities, necessary to conduct a Free Attitude Interview successfully, are the feeling of respect for the respondent and the interest one should have in hearing her opinion. Respect and interest combined, form the secrets of the art to listen well. There is a difference between waiting for one's turn to talk and really listening. It is very difficult to fool respondents in a qualitative interview with displaying a respect and an interest one does not have. It has to be stressed that the techniques are only helpful tools in communicating the respect one should have for the respondent's person and the interest one has for her views.

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Free Attitude Interview Manual - 3

The Interviewer’s Attitude The frame of mind of a successful qualitative interviewer is in fact very similar to that which a successful intercultural negotiator seems to have: "Successful intercultural negotiators are aware that people indeed think, feel, and behave differently and are at the same time, equally logical and rational. They know that individuals, groups, communities, organisations, and nations have different values, beliefs, and assumptions that make sense from their own viewpoints. They are sensitive to the fact that everybody perceives, discovers, and constructs reality - the internal end external world - in various meaningful ways." ( Casse P. & Deol S. 1985). A basically open minded and sensitive attitude can be communicated non-verbally in the following ways: The interviewer’s attitude should be of 'unconditional positive regard', allowing the interviewee to be and do as she feels like. When the interviewee feels respected, she will feel encouraged to talk and keep talking. Important to mention here, is the fact that acceptance of the respondent and agreement with her opinion, are definitely not the same thing. Giving attention and showing real interest are crucial elements in communicating this attitude of acceptance. Eye contact is an important aspect of non-verbal communication. It can be very important to keep eye contact with certain respondents. Sometimes however eye contact can be offensive and will therefore not be appropriate. When the respondent appreciates eye contact it must not develop into staring at somebody in too penetrating a way. The way the interviewer uses her voice in the interview has an enormous influence on the interviewee. It is very important for interviewers to become aware of the potential of their voice and of the impact it has. Body language is a universal channel of non-verbal communication. An open, inviting body posture is recommended. Gestures however, are culturally defined. The following advice derives from a traditionally western context: considered as very effective is a bent posture (torso in an angle of 45 degrees), shoulders turned in the direction of interviewee. The chairs can be placed at an angle of 90 degrees so that interviewee may avoid eye contact if she so pleases. It is better not to sit with crossed arms or legs. The researcher can show her interest in a non-verbal way: by eye contact and nodding with the head or verbally by uttering non-significant encouraging words: "hmm, hmm and yes... yes. The interviewer's attitude is very important, not only because it must actually be an invitation for interviewee to talk, but also because the interviewee will imitate (unconsciously perhaps most of the time) the interviewer's attitude. A closed, disinterested interviewer attitude will cause a similar response in interviewee’s attitude. It is imperative that the interviewer only interrupts the interviewee when she is drifting off. The interviewee will imitate interrupting as well. If this is done unnecessarily and too often it will spoil the atmosphere of trust and openness in the interview.

The Interview Techniques The techniques mentioned in the following require a certain amount of skill. Knowledge 'about' them remains impotent knowledge if the 'know-how', the skill to use them, is lacking. The necessary skill can be acquired by practice. Even a genuinely felt respect and interest for the respondent has to be communicated well in order to be effective. As Seidman states:"Technique is not everything but it is a lot!" (Seidman, 1991:56). The Free Attitude Interview is described as a controlled non-directive interview because interviewee is free to talk about anything she feels like, as long as it is within the framework of the starting question. Various techniques

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complement each other in obtaining this goal. A coding system for the techniques is provided in the text below, which may facilitate the analysis of the interview especially in training situations. Information (I) Interviewer starts the interview always by giving some short information (I) about herself and by giving the frame of reference of the interview. It is often also necessary to give some information explaining the background of the exploratory question, but it is imperative to keep this introduction as "clear" as possible. It is not advisable to give this kind of information later on during the interview. This will interrupt interviewee's way of exploring and formulating her ideas and it will disturb the structure of the interview. The exploring question (Ex-q) Ex-q, the starting question, the only substantive question in fact, has to be formulated in an open and vague enough way. The formulation of the Ex-q may not contain any suggestion. It is an exploring question: "Would you like to tell me what you think/feel about...?" The Ex-q covers in fact, the interviewer's opinion or hypothesis formulated in an asking way. For the interview to be a real Free Attitude Interview, it is important that the interviewer asks only one Ex-q and only in the beginning of the interview. It is possible to ask more exploring questions relating to the same topic in one interview session. This type of qualitative interview can be called an open-ended questionnaire. In this type of interview the interviewer will inevitably influence the interviewee's exploring of the interview topic. We therefore do not speak of a Free Attitude Interview anymore. Reflective Summary (RS) A reflective summary (RS) gives back the interviewee's opinions and feelings in the interviewers own words. It is not a good idea to repeat literally what the interviewee has said. A reflective summary has a structuring function; it structures (orders) interviewee's information. This is very important for the interviewee as well as for the interviewer. The open structure of the Free Attitude Interview gives the interviewee more space than she is probably used to, in a "normal" social conversation. Few respondents can use this space to structure their own thoughts, without the interviewer's help. The interviewee's reaction on the interviewer's reflective summary will be a good test for the interviewer: did she really understand what interviewee has said or not? A reflective summary has to stimulate interviewee to give more information, it has to be an invitation. The reflective summary has to be proposed in a tentative and asking way: "It is your opinion that ...?", "You have got the feeling that ...?", "If I understand you well, you are saying...?" It is recommended when the tone of the interviewer's voice goes up at the end of her utterance. This will have an evocative effect. The interviewer has to reflect not only the interviewee's actual words, the manifest aspect, but also the feeling behind it. The real meaning, the ultimate message, which is sometimes the latent aspect, has to be captured in as concrete a way as possible. "Concrete" meaning that the interviewer's reflective summary has to reflect the nature as well as the intensity of the interviewee's feelings. It is not important that the interviewer should use perfect formulations in her reflections. Stumbling may actually produce very good results as it forces the interviewee to take over and reformulate her opinion or feelings again. The clarifying question (Cl-q) The interviewer cannot actually ask for too much of clarification (Cl-q). It is a well-known social fact that people (and inexperienced interviewers) think too soon that they have understood somebody else. Inexperienced interviewers also tend to define their 'new' questions (Ex-q 's in

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Free Attitude Interview Manual - 5

fact!) as clarifying questions. A 'real' clarifying question will always remain within the information already given by interviewee. It will refer to an internal frame of reference, not to an external frame of reference. The Cl-q question can be formulated as such: "can you tell me something more about ... (interviewee's saying)? "What do you mean when you say...?" Sometimes it can be useful to ask for examples. The Cl-q question has to be handled with care. Probably because of the fact that it is not a type of question often asked in "normal" social contact, some interviewees may find it intruding, even threatening. More often than not actually, respondents delight in it. Pause or silence (P) A silence or a pause can be very effective, giving both interviewer and interviewee time to think. The effectiveness of a good, silent 'listener' should not be underestimated. In 80% of the cases, the interviewee will resolve the silence within 10 seconds.

The structure of the interview It is hopefully not necessary anymore to stress that the Free Attitude Interview is not an unstructured interview. The main difference between a standardised questionnaire, a so-called structured interview, and the F.A.I. is not the aspect of structure itself. The difference between these two types of interview lies in the nature and the timing of the structuring process. In the F.A.I. the interviewer has to structure the information after it has been given to her and not before she gets it. Furthermore, in the F.A.I. the structure should accommodate the interviewee in her free exploration of her views and not reflect ideas (or hypotheses) of the interviewer. The structure of the interview should follow the flow of information coming from the respondent, not only in content but in form as well. This has implications for the uses and the timing of certain techniques: it is advisable to use a reflective summary as often as possible and a clarifying question only when you lack the information to make a good reflective summary. The interviewer will end the interview with a reflecting summary of all the given information, the socalled final summary (RS-final), in which the most important points of the interview are reiterated. When the interviewee responds to this with, for instance: "yes, that is exactly how I feel/think", the interviewer may assume that she has conducted a good Free Attitude Interview. The following model may illustrate the structure of a 'perfect' Free Attitude Interview: Ex-q: Answer 1: RS 1: Answer 2: Cl-q 1: Answer 3: RS 2:

What do you think about...? (Dimensions)

A A1 A2

B B1 B2

C C1 C2

A3 A3

B2

C2 etc. until RS-final

A2?

Some final remarks

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Free Attitude Interview Manual - 6

Qualitative interview data demand a qualitative analysis. Qualitative data analysis takes place in cycles and is integrated within the total research process. Within the F.A.I. there is potential for the data to be collected, analysed and verified by interviewer and interviewee together. The quality of the information obtained by a F.A.I. will depend on the quality of this partnership. The ability to establish such a partnership will depend on the skills of the interviewer - skills that may be acquired, not so much by reading this text but by diligent training and practice. Quantitative researchers can consider the Free Attitude Interview as an imprecise instrument because of the interviewer’s subjectivity. In qualitative research however, the interviewer’s subjectivity is not seen as a problem but as an asset she has to cultivate and refine (Meulenberg-Buskens, I. 1997). Training in the F.A.I. offers researchers the opportunity to explore and refine their individual style (Oskowitz B. & Meulenberg-Buskens I., 1997) As a last note to avoid unnecessary assumptions, the fact has to be stressed that whenever she is used, any person acting in this research situation, regardless of gender is meant.

References Casse, P. & Deol, S. (1985). Managing Intercultural Negotiations. United Nations Report. Meulenberg-Buskens, I. (1997). Turtles all the way down? On a quest for quality in qualitative research. South African Journal of Psychology, vol. 27, nr 2 (forthcoming). Oskowitz, B. & Meulenberg-Buskens, I. (1997) Preparing researchers for a qualitative investigation of a particularly sensitive nature: reflections from the field. South African Journal of Psychology, vol. 27, nr 2 (forthcoming). Seidman, I.E. (1991). Interviewing as qualitative research. New York: Teachers College Press Smaling, A. (1992) The pragmatic dimension. Paradigmatic and pragmatic aspects of choosing a qualitative or quantitative method. Research report. University for Humanist Studies, Utrecht, the Netherlands. Vrolijk A., Dijkema, M.F. & Timmerman, G. (1980). Gespreksmodellen. Alphen a.d. Rijn: s.n.

Ineke Buskens

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3/31/2011

The Free Attitude Interview  

The Free Attitude Interview Technique, also described as a non-directive controlled depth interview, can be used as a qualitative research i...