Mom and Dad gave me a digital recorder for my birthday last year. I have only used it once for an interview. Sometimes people get a little uncomfortable and don't talk as freely when there is a tape recorder running. Sometimes dad just starts talking when I don't have my recorder available.
While doing a google search for information about this subject, I came across this page that discusses How To The Tell Difficult Life Stories. I encourage you to check the page out and read all the information. Here is just a helpful snippet:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~HOW TO TELL THE STORIES THAT ARE HARD TO TELLSounds easy enough and yet going back into the pain of your past is a very difficult thing to do, especially to feelings that remain unresolved.
How to talk with someone about a difficult time in their lives:
- Make reasons for asking clear in your mindWhy do you want to know? Are you hoping for further understanding about this person? About how this event impacted you?
- Make reasons for asking clear to your intervieweeTell your interviewee why you want to know about the subject. Make it clear you are not here to judge or pass a verdict.
- Create a calming, neutral environmentShare a meal or a cup of tea first. Be conversational. It will calm them and you. Move somewhere comfortable for the talk.
- Read body languageAssess by their posture, facial expressions, eye contact, or lack thereof, whether to push for more details or to let it be for now.
- Create spaceAsk your question, then be patient. Silence is not a bad thing. Allow the interviewee to gather their thoughts, process their emotions, and prepare their words. Even if there are 2, 3, 5 minutes of silence, wait.
- Keep a neutral expressionYou may think making a sympathetic face or cutting in with, "Oh, how dreadful," is being kind and supportive, but it is really just being distracting. It may also come off as pity, which no one wants. Not to say you need to be stone-faced, either. In listening, maintain eye contact, keep your expression gentle and attention, but otherwise non-invasive. A gentle nod once in a while is great. You just want to allow them time and space to talk.
- Do the interview in small chunksFor difficult topics, allot manageable chunks of time. This may look different for different people. Some may prefer 30 minutes, some an hour and thirty. Check in with them verbally and also judge by their body language cues what feels like a good time to stop.
- End the interview mindfullyAfter the interview, assess their mood and body language. Do they need time alone? Do you want to have tea together, take a walk perhaps? Talk about something neutral to reset the mood? You will have to use your intuition, or just come out and ask them what they want. It is a good idea to check in somehow and not just walk away once you have what you need.