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My tip today is: don’t probe or pressurize people to provide reasons or justifications. They’ll just make stuff up to satisfy you. This is known as ‘confabulation’. Instead, take the pressure off, open things up, don’t pursue! How would you like to be ‘probed’. Sounds like the dentist!

To get a better sense of the ways in which we deceive ourselves have a look here: http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/11/10-piercing-insights-into-human-nature.php

I am amazed by the amount of poor and unhelpful process in focus groups – and process that flies in the face of our increasing scientific knowledge of how choices are made. Much of it stems from the early ideas of psychodynamic psychologists like Freud and Jung that the psyche is a bit like an iceberg, with only a little showing on the surface while much is hidden beneath. From this the idea of probing surely emerges, what if we could poke about beneath the surface to find out what’s there?

This leaves a lot of researchers busily seeking tools or techniques to dig deeper. The favourite is the question: “Why?” Unfortunately this is usually both unhelpful and leads to false attributions. We know for sure that people don’t want to appear thoughtless or irrational in front of others, so they make up a reason that satisfies the questioner.

Look at the beautiful iceberg. You could say the white bit represents conscious mind and the larger part beneath the surface the unconscious. It’s true that more and more research shows that much of our decision-making happens automatically, within the unconscious, and so it is important to think about how to reach these more hidden areas. But if you think for a second about how Freud and Jung went about it, they created settings that were as pressure free as possible and just asked people to talk about what came to mind. They did not pressure or probe people, they realised that matters of importance would surface if people were free to raise them in the manner and pace that suited them!

So, my favourite ‘probe’:

“Could you please say some more about that?”