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Qualitative by the Numbers – Blog Eight: Two Ears for Listening Without Judging – All About UPR

Posted on November 26, 2021 by Riva Market Research Training Institute

This is the next in the series of the Qualitative by the Numbers blogs. 

One needs two ears for listening, and beyond the brain which is required to formulate the question path, your ears are one of the essential features for a successful moderator.

The distinction between quantitative and qualitative research:

  • Quantitative research is based on a research hypothesis and conducting the proper number of interviews to confirm or refute the hypothesis. What matters here is how many.
  • Qualitative research, however, is more exploratory and explanatory. Meaning we are looking for what people can tell us about the factors driving their choice of answers to our questions.

In a nutshell, qualitative researchers listen to what the respondent is telling them and pay close attention to the language, descriptions, metaphors, etc., driving the respondent’s comments. Quantitative research is based on the number of responses to a series of closed-ended questions and counts which answer had the highest number of responses.

Qualitative research allows us the opportunity to hear in an unfiltered manner the POBAs (perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes) of the respondent to any given question. Once the moderator has used those ears to hear the responses, the next most important feature that shows up as a requirement is the ability to listen absent the filters that most of us bring to other people’s conversations. For example, many people are genuinely surprised to learn that everybody doesn’t think about things precisely the same way they do. If qualitative researchers are not mindful of this tendency, they will likely make the mistake of interpreting their questions, and the respondents comments through their own filter and worldview.

What is desirable is to remove as many of the hidden filters, biases, and expectations that the moderator brings to the party. The most the primary means for doing that is through the use of UPR (unconditional positive regard). UPR acknowledges that the respondent is not the same as you and is entitled to their own opinion and view of the world, so a good moderator declines to sit in judgment of the way respondents answer. Good moderators are conscious of the fact that everyone does not think the same way about anything.

UPR operates on this principle – as long as the respondent is answering the question asked by the moderator, remains on point, and is respectful of other opinions that are not the same, then the moderator is fine with whatever and however the respondent answers the question. Choice of language is less critical, slang is less distracting, and explanation of worldview is more desirable. What’s important here is understanding the world from the point of view of the respondents. Given our job is to uncover POBAs, then any and everything we can do to allow those POBAS to emerge unfiltered is the highest demonstration of the job.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a qualitative interview follows the same unspoken rules as a conversation in the manner of a two-way dialogue. The setting is somewhat relaxed and casual and in the vernacular of the respondent. However, the interest in the respondents’ comments is intense. Understanding is diminished when the researchers’ opinions, worldview, and inexperience get in the way of providing a clear path to the respondents’ thinking. Qualitative questions are neutral, non-leading, and open-ended, providing the respondent with a clear space to step into and articulate their view of the world in response to this question. When the moderator forgets this is an interview designed to uncover POBAs, they also may not be aware of how much filtering of reactions they’re doing because it is natural to seek confirmation of one’s own hypothesis. But in the context of listening to the respondents rather than for something, good moderators are adept at asking questions that don’t signal a particular theory or expected answer and actually allow the respondent to say what they will in response to the question.

Good moderators also resist the urge to “help” the respondent answer the question by providing possible answers and especially resists the desire to help the respondent articulate their thought (putting words in the respondent’s mouth). The opportunity for qualitative researchers to enter the respondents’ world, if only for two hours, in a focus group is unmatched in almost anywhere else in life for the non-Psychology professional. The opening is there for us to learn more about how the respondent has arrived at the answer they gave you, factors that were considered or rejected, in sorting out what to answer for you, and offering this unparalleled glimpse into life as the respondent knows it.

If the moderator sticks to questions that evoke experiential answers rather than numerical answers, using the  J-5 question stems (who, what, when, where, and how), and accepts the respondent’s worldview as valid for the respondent, the opportunity exists to get a good look at the drivers and motivators for respondent behaviors.  Understanding those drivers and the emotional framework in which they live results in better business decisions made by the end-users of the research.

Written by: Jo Ann Hairston, Master Moderator & Master Trainer