Holding a compassionate poker face during research helps with unbiased feedback. Then again no one is a robot, a sense of warmness can still help when it comes to moderation.
Openness during research helps participants to feel at ease. Emma Jones and Amy Hunter, from our research team, share their advice when it comes to finding a balance between curiosity and neutrality during user research testing and moderation.
A Constant Game Face Can Create Distance
A researcher who always holds their cards close to their chest can create a different feeling to someone who has boundless energy and perhaps too open.
There is a balance to strike. Emma recognises the importance to switch gears; “When it comes to facilitating, you need a lot of hats at different stages of the session. You can’t be cold at the very beginning as people enter a space they are unfamiliar with. A researcher has to be a gracious host, but when you start there can be a slight shift, that moves towards being more neutral and in charge. It doesn’t have to be drastic but your tone of voice, your posture, or the volume at which you lead the research can alter. The more research you deliver, the more refined you become.”
An important element that Emma and Amy believe in is to create an open space in which the participant feels at ease.
Amy says, “A research group needs to know you are with them. We are not the client (even though we are working on their behalf) and we do not have a deep sense of attachment to what has been created. We are not the people who produced the website that people are about to test. We’re not testing the user, we’re testing the website. A researcher is able to represent a third-party source that is detached from assumptions.”
Emma’s article on stepping aside from your own assumptions explores how it is important to recognise that everyone has challenges and hurdles to overcome when it comes to their perspectives and belief system. You have to be open and see how the world looks when it is presented to you.
Those Grand Reveal Moments
But what about researchers’ own assumptions? Surely some moments spark a sense of discovery or a moment that reveals something completely new? Emma comments, “It comes down to a researcher being aware of themselves. Yes, there are times when you might have a breakthrough moment, but you must remain calm and poised. For instance, relentless nodding may trigger signals for someone to keep progressing down a particular path, you can’t build favour to a discussion.”
Amy highlights a method she uses where any sense of bias is taken out. “Being too curious or too level-headed can skew findings. What you do is take on board the ‘count to five’ rule. This is about learning to be comfortable with, and accepting of silence, as it gives space to allow the participant to continue. Pausing for thought can surface additional thoughts and feelings.”
Even-Handed But Approachable
The neutral moderator is a valid person to have on side, but a sense of approachability is still important.
This is what makes research relevant. Skipping it can present a whole host of different scenarios. Emma points to the risk of bypassing the research stage, “I understand that time and budget can become constraints, but if there is no consideration to a research stage of a project it can cause instability. For instance, if a business has invested huge effort and resource on a new website, with little consideration to user research and useability testing; when it comes to going live and a website delivers no enquiries, leads, or poor feedback from their customer base, it can take so much more time to rectify and even redesign.”
It pays for the role of research and to provide an impartial approach. In the words of Abraham Maslow, ‘if you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.’
A good moderator makes the participant feel respected, valued, and listened to. There really is no right or wrong answer, as Amy and Emma often remind participants.