As professionals seeking insights from our clients' consumers, we're very good at designing ways to discover what our client needs to know about their consumer. We are in this line of work because we are truly curious about what makes people do what they do. But every now and then we meet a respondent who, for whatever reason, we just can't relate to. We can’t walk away from the interview thought. The only option we have is to carry on and find common ground to connect us. 

Stepping out of your comfort zone to find the shared humanity.

This happened on a recent in-store intercept project. I came across a consumer who was sampling our client’s product. Not only that, she had already placed the product in her shopping cart – that’s the intercept equivalent of striking gold! I engaged in a conversation. The respondent was friendly and adeptly managing her two kids all the while she was speaking. When I asked how the product would be used, she casually replied it would be perfect for the whole family when they were on their plane. Wait a sec. Their plane?

Let me just say that I still fly commercial, and flying in a private jet is not commonplace for me. I simply don't run with people who have their own private jets. Faced with this individual, I could have let myself get intimidated, not certain how to relate. She owns a private jet! What else does she own? What do I own? How do I connect with her? In that moment, I took a calming breath, let it settle in my mind, and then I knew I could pivot. My reaction became one of curiosity about her world rather than being intimidated and assuming I could not relate to her. She was going to use this product on her private plane, and I needed to be open to hearing about her lifestyle and how this product would be used by her family…on their plane. The need states would be similar, it’s just the context that was different.

Asking good questions.

Basic insecurity drives many of us to 'act as if' we already know about a topic someone is talking about, rather than admit we have no idea. But we miss out on real connection if we are not sincere about our lack of understanding. Rather than organizing questions to sound like we already know the topic, ask questions that will help you learn something new. In my situation, I asked her how often the kids fly on the plane. This told me more about the family and kept her at ease by not focusing on the plane. The plane was just a mode of transportation, what was important was the job our client’s product performed during their travels. Focusing too much on the plane would be like asking people questions about their SUV, when that’s not the topic of the research. Asking good, thoughtful questions that establish common human connections help the person you are speaking with remain in their own comfort zone. Your curiosity will keep the conversation going, if you actively listen.

Active listening.


When you actively listen to a person, it is not passive. To learn something new, you need to be open, concentrate, understand, and respond thoughtfully to what you are hearing. This tells the person speaking that you truly want to hear their answer to your question. Body language speaks volumes and you should ‘listen’ to the other person as well be aware of your own. When a person feels that you are interested in what they have to say, trust is established and the conversation will become richer and more rewarding.

It’s always worth the effort.

Not every person you meet is going to be easy to talk with. However, the rewards of trying will pay off. Discovering information that is useful, interesting, and unexpected is why we love seeking insights for our clients. Bridging an awkward circumstance with considerate questions that find the common human connections, along with active listening, will help you secure the information you need. Regarding my interaction, I learned that I was more impressed by the plane than she was. For her, it was another mode of transportation in her life. Her focus was telling me about her family and how much she liked the product we were talking about.

Next time you get the chance, try it! Allowing yourself to branch out and talk with people you have little in common with open your mind to new ideas and experiences, and it really can make your day.

When have you found yourself unable to relate to the person you were talking with, and how do you handle the situation? Email me at or comment on FacebookLinkedIn or Twitter. I would enjoy hearing from you!

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