How to Interview a Brick Wall
No one likes being blindsided. Breezy chatter comes first, getting his brain and vocal chords warmed up. Reporters look desperately for any way to connect with strangers: a question about that framed family photo, a discovered mutual opera obsession, or in the worst-case scenario, the weather. You have an advantage: You already know what he likes to talk about. Start there. Compliments can work wonders, too, says Tim Mohr, an editor at Playboy , a magazine known for its interviews. But calibrate carefully. "Sometimes you really suck up to an interviewee," he says, "but in a relationship situation, you'd run the risk of making someone suspicious."
Prepare unexpected questions.
Reporters know that big shots always get asked the same questions and have stock answers. You don't ask a young actor, "What was it like working with Jack Nicholson?" (Answer: "Unbelievable. Greatest experience of my life; he's wonderful."). A better idea: "What did you talk to Jack Nicholson about today?" or "What does he eat on the set?" So for you, "How was your day?" is out; "What did your annoying colleague Clyde say today?" is in.
Ask open-ended questions.
Queries that allow yes-or-no or quick answers get yes-or-no or quick answers. The worst question in the history of journalism is: "Did you have a happy childhood?" Much better: "Tell me about growing up in Cincinnati in the 1960s." Similarly, you don't want to ask cutesy questions: "If you could look into the crystal ball of our relationship, when would you see us moving in together?" That puts lots of pressure on him to come up with the right answer, and there's no chance of finding out what he's really thinking. Better: the less-threatening but harder-to-squirm-out-of "What needs to happen before you feel ready to take the next step?"
Reporters who listen to tapes of their own interviews often realize they talk too much. Keep your questions sharp and precise, and if you don't get an immediate response, don't rush to end an uncomfortable silence by rephrasing the question. Whether you're talking to interviewees or your male partners, let them think. Or sweat. And even though they've given an answer, any answer, you don't have to move on. Try a nonquestion follow-up. Particularly effective are "Mm-hmm" or "Wow! Tell me more," followed by more silence. You just wait; they'll talk.
Don't be argumentative.
Reporters are impartial observers of the story, not active participants in it. This is a huge advantage that you can't replicate at home. But you can make every effort to play it cool. No matter how outrageous his response, probe further, call bluffs, but don't fight. Say "That's so interesting. I wouldn't have thought of it that way—please go on." After a bit of prodding, he may start to make sense. There's a method to everyone's madness, and reporters decode it by staying objective and letting our subjects talk. It works. And we talk to people crazier than your man all the time.
Selectively ignore these rules.
There are times to pepper him with yes-or-no questions, times to argue, times to use otherwise prohibited phrases. For example, if your husband blows his Christmas bonus on a Harley-Davidson and skydiving lessons, it's finally appropriate to say, "What are you thinking?"
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