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I have been covering the subjects of subjective experience [SE] and the phenomenological method. My aim is to enrich your ability to make contact with what matters to people. Contact with SE is the gold standard of qualitative inquiry.

In case you are the kind of person that doesn’t want to bother with the theory, turning these theories into practice has led me to seven ‘killer’ questions that are just about the only ones I ever use. They are my topic guide. They work in every case. They work best if I don’t tinker with them too much. Keep it simple!

Imagine we are exploring X – a product, service, brand or campaign. Or it could be a process, a behaviour, an attitude, a feeling.

These are the seven.

  1. What’s on your mind about X? [H]
  2. What was your first experience of X? [V]

These two questions bring you up-to-date with their subjective experience in the here and now. They are in the tradition of Horizontality [H] and Verticality[V] in line with the phenomenological method. Horizontality is most simply thought about as ‘associations’ – free associations are best. Verticality is like laddering where we try to see what each answer is based upon, what underlies it. In particular for verticality you need the conditions of safety, permission and, perhaps leadership by example. If you as a facilitator won’t explore your ‘depths’ in public, why should anyone else?

The next is another [H]

  1. Can you say more about that?

Now. we come to the big [V] questions:

  1. What effect did that have on you? [V]
  2. What is important about that? [and what is important about that? etc.] [V]
  3. Does anyone else want to say something? [H] [if you are working in a group or workshop.]

Then, we want to be sure that we are capturing what has made an impression in their subjective experience:

  1. What has made the biggest impact on you during our session? [V]

Then, if you have that feeling that you don’t have everything, as you will from time to time, ask a ‘closer’ – Does anyone have anything else they want to say before we finish?

When I work, I simply recycle these questions, rephrasing them, varying in [V] and [H] according to the needs of my brief. They can be used over and over again, as you introduce stimulus, new topics where you change X for Y, or probing through asking for more.

The beauty of this is that it allows me to stay in close contact with my participants and their [SE], also to leave to one side that dreadful list of over-particular questions that I have to rehearse continually to remember.

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As a psychologist, psychotherapist and research practitioner of 40 years, I've had the benefit of the experiences of more than 100,000 people around the world. They've talked about their daily lives, hopes, fears, ambitions and needs. These experiences have helped me to contribute to innovations from Beds in Business and the Fast Track for airlines to television drama and online communities. Specialties:Large groups, facilitation, application of psychological theories to commercial issues

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