How do you handle respondents that have opposing viewpoints or values contrary to your own? Label them an outlier and move on? Ignore them completely? Or embrace their views as contrary, but an opportunity to learn more and see life from their point of view?

We dealt with this question on a recent project. My colleague, Dr. Sunaina Schultz was moderating when a respondent expressed views that were contradictory (and even a bit offensive) to the moderator’s more inclusive perspective.

In that moment as a moderator, when someone says something offensive, how you react is critical. React the wrong way, and you’ll stop the conversation in its tracks. Judgment and your own bias will clash with the bias expressed by the respondent. Good moderators are trained to have “unconditional positive regard” for participants. We can’t let judgment get in the way. Not only does it diminish the respondent, but it prevents you from truly listening, which means you will miss out on potentially key learnings.

Sunaina and I recently re-listened to the audio from the interview. We talked about her reaction in the moment, as well as, how to handle the situation and if you should move beyond it, or dismiss what the respondent has to say.


Read on for our conclusion - or - take a quick 14 minutes and listen to the podcast above. You’ll get our conclusion plus hear the interview that started this controversial conversation.

The conclusion we came to is that you do have to listen to the homophobe. Just because that viewpoint doesn’t align with your own doesn’t mean you have the right, as a moderator, to discredit or dismiss them. In fact, it can be an opportunity to listen and try to glean insight when you marry it up with cultural and social events that are going on. That’s ultimately what Sunaina was able to do in the analysis portion of the project. This respondent’s remarks gave us acute insight into the worldview of a still sizable portion of the United States, which we were able to put into larger context for our clients.

So yes, as much as you might disagree with someone’s values and may not want to hear what they have to say, they still count as a valid respondent and should be listened to. I like how Sunaina put it… “We are human. The ask isn’t to be impartial or objective. The ask is to reflect on your biases before you go into the research. What are my biases? And when you’re in the moment, see how you respond. Check your biases at the door. Set up the space to share openly.”

I’m curious to know how you’ve handled these situations in the past yourself. Let’s talk about it. You can reach me at You can also share your story with us on Facebook or LinkedIn.