From the Editor: What Makes a Successful Interviewer?

From the Editor: What Makes a Successful Interviewer?


S&H is no stranger to interviews.

I’ve interviewed a fair number of people in the past couple decades. I’ve sat down or talked via video with civil rights activists, classical musicians, hockey players, politicians, engineers, bestselling authors—you name it.

From those experiences, here are my top three interviewing tips:

  1. Try to get people away from default or practiced answers. This normally means asking something specific enough that the person has to really think about the answer.
  2. Don’t interrupt. Don’t assume an answer is finished. Staying silent for a couple extra beats can work wonders.
  3. If time permits, ask some version of “Is there anything else I should have asked about?” Often there is.

I talked with Robert Thurman for this issue (page 72), and I don’t think I did a great job adhering to tips 1 and 2. His answers tended to be so dense and complete that there weren’t any obvious follow-up questions. And he is such a fascinating and engaging person that I couldn’t help skewing more towards an appreciative conversation than a somewhat more detached interview.

One thing I loved about talking with Thurman was his use of language—vernacular expressions (“Socrates, I liked that guy”) mixed with decidedly non-vernacular ones (“the alluvium in West India—that is now shared with Pakistan—was 35 times larger than the Nile”) in the most offhand way. Hopefully I captured some of his charm in the short profile.

On the subject of interviews: Steve Kiesling conducts our main interview in each issue. Steve’s advantage is that he’s as steeped in mind-body-spirit wellness as anyone can be. He was on the team that founded S&H more than two decades ago and was the editor for many years. For this issue he interviews the fascinating Camilla Pang (page 34).

Pang is a cancer researcher who uses science to understand human behavior (including her own). Thurman is an advocate for what he calls the Buddha sciences or inner sciences. Maybe someday Bob (Thurman), Millie (Pang), and I can sit and have coffee together. I’m sure I’d be thrilled to just listen.

Interviewer tips

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