10 Strategies for Managing Nervous or Difficult Interviewees

These FAQs address the most common questions that people may have when it comes to planning, preparing for, conducting, and analysing interviews for various purposes. These FAQs are applicable to a wide range of industries and situations, such as academic research, radio broadcasting, podcast or webinar hosting, journalism, job interviews, and many others. The information provided also delves into specific aspects of the interview process, including planning for individual or group/focus group interviews, important considerations during interviews, effective questioning techniques, different interviewing styles, and the steps to review and interpret the outcomes after the interview has taken place.

What Strategies Can I Employ to Handle Nervous or Difficult Interviewees?

Interviews are a cornerstone of information gathering, whether you are a journalist seeking a compelling story, a researcher delving into a new study, a podcaster aiming to engage your audience, or a human resource manager trying to select the perfect candidate for a job. However, every interviewer encounters a common challenge: nervous or difficult interviewees. Managing these individuals effectively is essential to extract valuable information and foster a productive conversation.

In this quick guide, we will explore the strategies and steps you can employ to handle nervous or difficult interviewees. To begin, let’s define what it means to “manage interviewees.” It involves the art of guiding the conversation, establishing rapport, and adapting your approach to ensure a successful interview. Whether your subject is uneasy due to their first-ever interview or they possess a challenging temperament, these strategies will equip you to navigate any interview scenario with finesse.

10 Key Steps To Managing Interviewees

#1 Preparation is Key

Before the interview, research your interviewee thoroughly. Understanding their background, interests, and experiences will help establish common ground and put them at ease. If you’re aware of their difficulties, you can also prepare specific questions or techniques to address their concerns.

difficult interviewees preparation

Effective preparation is the bedrock of a successful interview. Before you even step into the interview room, invest time in researching your interviewee. Dive into their background, explore their interests, and familiarise yourself with their professional experiences. This not only demonstrates your commitment but also helps establish common ground. Understanding their career trajectory, hobbies, and any recent achievements allows you to establish rapport effortlessly.

Additionally, if you are aware of specific difficulties your interviewee may have, such as a tendency to be guarded or reticent, you can prepare tailored questions and techniques to address their concerns. Craft your questions thoughtfully, ensuring they align with the interviewee’s expertise and interests. By doing so, you not only put them at ease but also show that you respect their expertise.

Remember, your research should extend beyond a cursory glance at their LinkedIn profile. Delve into their past work, recent publications, or notable achievements. This thorough approach will set the stage for a more productive and insightful interview.

Example: If you’re interviewing a notoriously private individual, ensure your questions respect their boundaries and focus on the topics they’re comfortable discussing.

#2 Establish a Comfortable Environment

Create a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere for the interview. Ensure the interviewee feels physically and emotionally comfortable. Offer a glass of water, maintain a moderate room temperature, and have a friendly demeanour.

Creating a comfortable environment is paramount for a successful interview. The atmosphere you cultivate can significantly impact the interviewee’s level of comfort and, consequently, the quality of the conversation. Consider the physical and emotional aspects of the interview setting.

Physically, ensure that the interviewee feels at ease in the surroundings. Offer them a glass of water, a cup of tea, or any beverage they prefer. Maintaining a moderate room temperature is also crucial; an overly cold or hot environment can be distracting and uncomfortable. These seemingly small gestures can go a long way in making your interviewee feel welcomed and relaxed.

Emotionally, your demeanour plays a pivotal role. Greet them with a warm and friendly approach, which can help to alleviate initial nervousness. Offer a genuine smile and a handshake (if in person) to establish a connection. Make small talk before diving into the interview questions to break the ice and set a positive tone.

Remember, the more comfortable your interviewee feels, the more open and candid they are likely to be during the conversation.

Example: For podcasters conducting remote interviews, a friendly greeting and a few minutes of casual conversation can help set a positive tone.

#3 Active Listening

Pay close attention to your interviewee’s responses. Show that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say by maintaining eye contact and nodding. This can encourage nervous interviewees to open up and difficult ones to feel heard.

Active listening is an art that can make or break an interview. It involves not just hearing but truly understanding what your interviewee is saying. To demonstrate genuine interest, maintain consistent eye contact and nod in agreement as they speak. These non-verbal cues communicate that you value their insights and are fully engaged in the conversation.

For nervous interviewees, this active listening approach can have a calming effect. When they perceive that you are fully attuned to their words, it can boost their confidence and encourage them to express themselves more freely. For difficult interviewees, active listening can make them feel heard and respected, potentially easing any tension or defensiveness.

Additionally, asking follow-up questions based on their responses shows that you are actively processing the information and eager to delve deeper. This approach not only enhances the quality of the interview but also fosters a positive and productive atmosphere.

Example: Respond to their answers with phrases like, “I appreciate your insight” or “Tell me more about that.”

#4 Ask Open-Ended Questions

Encourage interviewees to elaborate by asking open-ended questions that require more than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. This allows for deeper and more insightful answers.

One of the most effective strategies for managing interviewees is the use of open-ended questions. These questions require more than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response, prompting interviewees to elaborate on their thoughts and experiences. By encouraging them to provide detailed responses, you can uncover deeper and more insightful information.

Open-ended questions also give interviewees the freedom to share their perspectives and narratives. This not only enriches the content of your interview but also makes interviewees feel valued, as it conveys your interest in their unique insights.

When framing questions, consider using phrases like “Can you tell me more about…” or “What do you find most interesting about…?” These prompts guide interviewees to provide comprehensive responses, ultimately leading to a more engaging and informative interview.

Example: Instead of asking, “Do you enjoy your work?” try, “Can you describe what you find most fulfilling about your role?”

#5 Empathetic Communication

Be empathetic and understanding towards your interviewee. If they appear nervous, acknowledge their feelings and reassure them that it’s okay to be anxious. For difficult interviewees, maintain a patient and respectful tone.

Empathy is a powerful tool when dealing with both nervous and difficult interviewees. It involves understanding and acknowledging the interviewee’s emotions, making them feel valued and supported.

difficult interviewees communication

For nervous interviewees, it’s essential to recognise their anxiety and assure them that it’s perfectly normal to feel this way. Share your own experiences of interview nerves or provide anecdotes about other successful interviewees who once felt the same. This empathetic approach can help alleviate their fears and create a more relaxed atmosphere.

When dealing with difficult interviewees, maintaining a patient and respectful tone is vital. Rather than reacting to their challenging behaviour with frustration, try to understand the underlying reasons for their resistance. Empathise with their perspective, even if you don’t agree with it. This approach can disarm defensiveness and open the door to a more constructive conversation.

In both cases, empathy can be a bridge to more productive and harmonious interviews.

Example: Say, “It’s completely normal to feel a bit nervous before an interview. We’re just having a conversation,” to put them at ease.

#6 Redirect and Reframe

For difficult interviewees, redirect the conversation if it veers off track or becomes unproductive. Reframe their responses to guide them back to the intended topic.

Challenging interviewees may often lead the conversation off track or provide unproductive responses. In such situations, it’s crucial to master the skill of redirecting and reframing the dialogue.

For example, if a difficult interviewee veers into irrelevant topics or becomes confrontational, gently but firmly steer the conversation back to the intended focus. You can say, “I appreciate your perspective on that, but let’s circle back to our main topic, which is…”

Reframing is another valuable technique. If a difficult interviewee offers a negative perspective, rephrase their statement in a more neutral or constructive manner. This can encourage a more positive and productive response. For example, if they say, “This project was a disaster,” you can reframe it by saying, “It sounds like there were challenges with the project. Can you share what lessons were learned from those challenges?”

These techniques maintain the interview’s purpose and guide it towards a more fruitful and insightful outcome.

Example: If they begin discussing unrelated issues, say, “That’s interesting, but let’s get back to our main focus. Can you tell me more about your experience in project management?”

#7 Use the “Silence Technique”

Allow moments of silence after a question to give interviewees time to gather their thoughts and respond more thoughtfully. Nervous interviewees may appreciate this pause.

Silence can be a powerful tool in managing interviews, especially for nervous interviewees who may require more time to gather their thoughts. After posing a question, allow a moment of silence before continuing or rephrasing. This pause gives the interviewee the space to think and respond more thoughtfully.

Nervous interviewees may appreciate this moment of reflection as it reduces the pressure to answer quickly. It can lead to more considered and detailed responses. The “Silence Technique” can be particularly effective when dealing with complex or emotionally charged topics, allowing interviewees to express themselves at their own pace.

Remember, silence doesn’t always signify discomfort; it can also indicate deep thinking and consideration. Be patient and let it work to your advantage.

Example: After posing a challenging question, count to five silently before rephrasing or elaborating.

#8 Non-Verbal Cues

Pay attention to body language. Difficult interviewees might reveal their feelings through gestures, facial expressions, or posture. Adjust your approach accordingly.

While words are essential, paying attention to non-verbal cues is equally vital, especially when managing difficult interviewees. Body language can reveal a lot about an interviewee’s feelings and reactions. If you observe that their gestures, facial expressions, or posture convey discomfort, defensiveness, or frustration, it’s essential to adjust your approach accordingly.

difficult interviewees cues

For example, if a candidate for a job position appears defensive, with crossed arms and a tense posture, this may indicate a lack of comfort or confidence. To counteract this, maintain open body language, such as relaxed shoulders and an open posture, to put them at ease. Ensure your facial expressions are welcoming and receptive.

Incorporating these adjustments based on non-verbal cues can create a more positive and productive interaction, even with the most challenging interviewees.

Example: If a candidate for a job position seems defensive, avoid confrontational postures, and opt for open body language to put them at ease.

#9 Offer Encouragement and Positive Feedback

Encourage interviewees with positive feedback. Acknowledge their insights and provide validation. This can boost their confidence and cooperation.

Positive feedback can be a powerful motivator during interviews, encouraging interviewees to express themselves more freely. Acknowledging their insights, ideas, and experiences provides validation and boosts their confidence, ultimately leading to a more productive conversation.

When an interviewee provides a valuable point or shares a unique perspective, express your appreciation. Say, “That’s a great point; I hadn’t considered it that way,” or “Your insights on this topic are truly enlightening.” Such positive feedback reinforces their contribution and fosters a more cooperative atmosphere.

For nervous interviewees, this affirmation can help alleviate their anxiety and make them feel valued. For difficult interviewees, it can soften their resistance and lead to more constructive engagement.

Example: Say, “That’s a great point; I hadn’t considered it that way,” to make them feel valued.

#10 Flexibility and Adaptation

Be prepared to adapt your approach during the interview. Some interviewees may require different strategies as the conversation unfolds. Stay flexible and responsive.

While preparation is essential, it’s equally crucial to be prepared to adapt your approach during the interview itself. Some interviewees may require different strategies as the conversation unfolds. Stay flexible and responsive to their cues and needs.

For instance, if you notice that a nervous interviewee is becoming more comfortable as the interview progresses, consider adjusting your questions to explore deeper or more complex topics. As they gain confidence, they may be more willing to share valuable insights.

Conversely, with difficult interviewees, if your initial approach is met with resistance or hostility, be ready to pivot. Perhaps you need to take a step back, rephrase your questions, or address their concerns directly. Flexibility in your approach allows you to navigate the conversation effectively, even in challenging situations.

Remember that no two interviews are the same, and your ability to adapt and remain responsive can make a significant difference in managing interviewees successfully.

Example: If a nervous interviewee becomes more comfortable as the interview progresses, adjust your questions to explore deeper topics.

Nervous Or Difficult Interviewees – Key Tips For Management

  • Preparation is the foundation of a successful interview. Thoroughly research your interviewee and their background to tailor your approach effectively.
  • Empathetic communication is a powerful tool for managing interviewees. Acknowledge their feelings and maintain a patient and respectful tone throughout the conversation.

Managing nervous or difficult interviewees is a skill that can be honed with practice and the right strategies. By preparing thoroughly, creating a comfortable environment, and employing empathetic communication, you can navigate challenging interviews successfully. Active listening, open-ended questions, and flexibility are key elements in managing interviews effectively.

Remember, every interviewee is unique, and your approach may need to adapt to suit their individual needs. By mastering the art of managing interviews, you can extract valuable insights, engage your audience, and make informed decisions in various professional contexts.

Key Piece of Advice: The most important aspect of managing interviewees is to always remain patient, empathetic, and adaptable. Your ability to create a comfortable and productive atmosphere will greatly contribute to the success of your interviews.

Preparing For Difficult Interviewees Resources

Way With Words is a professional transcription service that can assist in transcribing interviews with high accuracy, making it easier to review and analyse your conversations.

Harvard Business Review is a valuable resource for tips and strategies on effective communication and interviewing, including articles on handling difficult interviewees.

Journalism.co.uk is a platform offering insights and best practices for journalists, including guidance on interviewing techniques and handling challenging subjects.