Or you may miss the single most important piece of data you were looking for. Focus Groups provide an optimal medium to “meet” your customer. Participants have given up their time to provide you with valuable insight on your developing product or service. They potentially hold the answer to months and even years of research and development. Your participants are the most important people in your world for the next two hours. You’ll be wise to give them your ears AND your eyes.
When observing focus groups there are several key forms of communication that you need to be aware of, including; posture, facial expressions, and body movements among many others. A subtle raise of one’s eyebrow or a shift in the chair can signal a significant reactive behavior to a particular question, statement, or stimulus. In the amount of time it took for you to turn to a colleague and ask if they heard the last comment, you can miss something just as influential. With that in mind, here are a few behaviors to make note of:
Posture: Posture lends insight into one’s emotional state and current feelings. Is their posture open or closed? Is the comment expressed with enthusiasm or merely a calm gesture? A participant who reacts with closing their bodies can be demonstrating withdrawal, or suddenly became cold. If they are hunched over, perhaps they are uncomfortable or anxious with the topic at hand.
Crossed Arms: Individuals who cross their arms in the middle of a conversation are communicating a closing off of outside influences. It can be a sign of becoming emotionally protective or disengaged. Be sure to have the temperature set at a comfortable level.
Personal Space: Watch for participants leaning in or shifting closer to others in the room. Closeness demonstrates a sense of comfort and trust. If individuals make sudden movements in reverse, backing away, it can be a sign of withdraw or closure. The current topic may have struck a nerve and elicited negative thoughts.
Eye contact: A lot can be said about individuals and their level of eye contact. Are participants looking down when speaking? Perhaps they are lacking confidence in their answers. Forbes Magazine in a recent article compared eye contact to Goldilocks- you can have too much, too little, or just the right amount.
The next time you are observing a focus group, try to remember these simple tips. While we tend to find the most value in what is said, a lot can be gained by what is not. As management guru Peter F Drucker once quipped, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
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