Market researchers – at the intersection of annoying partygoer and really engaging human being

I’m a market researcher and my preference leans toward qualitative over quantitative (not that I can’t run a sweet cluster analysis or correlation matrix). I tend toward the touchy-feely “how do you feel” open-ends. I’m just the type of gal who needs human contact. I like to chat.

My challenge over the past few years, particularly in the workplace, is being a better listener, and not a dominant talker. As in “Hey Ellen, if you don’t insert your two-cents into everything your opinion will not cease to exist.” Listening better, engaging others, and communicating thoughtfully are the fundamentals of qual research. I just have to remind myself not to take it too far in social situations, lest my companions will feel like human guinea pigs.

Reflecting on the party I went to last night with primarily MIT students (ranging from commencing classwork today, mid-program, to near-graduation) I recalled themes from random conversations with new people. Themes go like this (try to read it REALLY quickly for for full effect): Almodovar, Ernest Hemingway, Woody Allen, the Art, Culture and Technology program, the Media Lab, impressionist art, supermarket vs. farmer’s market tomatoes, Brazil, Hungary, Israel, chocolate candies without preservatives that taste just like Snickers!), and more. And if you can believe it, I was only at the party for a couple hours.

Now you might be thinking “wow, what a bunch of cool people,” and you’d be right to think this. It’s true. But I’m thinking “wow, I was a great listener.” I connected with people by learning about them. One small step for man, one giant – I know, you get it. Miss you Mr. Armstrong.

I often joke that I’m going to do longitudinal research over the course of Liron’s lifetime so I can gauge my and Sasha’s parenting skills, according to her. I frequently ask her to rate some attribute on a 5 or 7-point Likert scale, or throw out an open-end. I really do ask her these questions, but my research project only a joke! Kind of.

As for my party etiquette, I am acutely aware that as a researcher I might freak someone out by probing too much. As in “How did you feel about getting that grant to do fieldwork in Brazil?” or “What do you think someone in your situation would do if faced with few teaching jobs in a highly competitive academic environment that doesn’t focus on Latin American markets?” etc.

Reading body language, I could tell some of the comments I made based on conversations were in fact insightful (“insight,” the most overused, little understood term in qual research), potentially thought-provoking, or at the very least demonstrated an understanding and interest in the topic at hand. I’ll admit it, I did have some internal “shut up, don’t go there” moments where I really wanted to “dig deeper” into someone’s feelings, intentions, and motivations. Why? Because parties are for fun. Networking. Laughing. Drinking. Eating. That being said … beware party goers. I will try my best. But you’re still all my research subjects.

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