Whether you are vetting someone for a job or writing a book on pop psychology, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell says there’s an ethic to interviewing: “Your responsibility is to get a glimpse of the real person.”
“I’ve been thinking about it more as I get older [and] realized a lot of my work as a journalist was impared by the fact that I wasn’t thinking about identity,” he said in his C2 Online — Montréal 2020 masterclass.
Unconscious bias, poor judgment when Talking to Strangers or ignorance make it “very easy to project our own understanding or desires onto someone.”
But your job is to situate the person, he said. Who are they? What do they care about? And how do they make sense of themselves in the world? Once you understand that, you can explore other facts or dig deeper.
“Feelings towards others are empty unless they come with some kind of structure that directs where our empathy lies.”
Use an identity stack
During his masterclass, “A Crash Course in Curiosity,” the rockstar storyteller explained the concept he uses to glean more info about a subject and “understand how someone orders their identity.”
“What are the identities that matter to you right now? Put them in order from most important to least important. They can be anything you want,” Malcolm instructed. “How do you want to be understood by others?”
Do you notice that the most obvious things about your identity stack aren’t necessarily the most important? Or that those things have changed over the course of your life or career?
This tool can help you reflect on yourself or find questions to ask the person in front of you, since, “you have an obligation to understand the person the way they ought to be understood.”
And one last (writing) tip
“Some writers early on in the project are very jealous of their ideas and want to keep them as close to the vest as possible. I feel that is absolutely wrong,” said Malcolm. “In the early stages of the idea, I do the opposite… I just systematically, almost to the point of being obnoxious, tell people what I am doing.”
The more you do, the more likely it is good things will come back your way, he added. “People like to help out and give you things from their own experience.” And besides, “as you get older the world gets smaller… you have to proactively try to widen your world.”
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