Learning how to roll with it

I had one of my worst interviews ever a while back, which also turned out to be one of the most important in my study on men opting out.

A friend of mine put me in touch with a man who opted out of a career to become a chiropractor. He had graciously agreed to participate in my study and the next step was for me to contact him in order to set up an interview. Well, that sounds easy enough, but this guy turned out to be very busy and getting a hold of him was extremely difficult. Finally after what was literally months, he suggested a time to meet. Fantastic! The timing wasn’t optimal for me but no problem; with some minor rearranging in my schedule I made it work.

So we had a time, so far so good! However, he didn’t want to meet in any of the places I suggested (interviews are good to conduct in quiet and private places so that the interviewee can speak openly and freely without worrying about anyone else hearing), he wanted to meet in a shopping mall that was on the way for him between appointments. At this point I thought I need to take whatever I can get and agreed.

The next day I drove to said shopping mall to see if there was a café with any remotely private corners or nooks where we could conduct the interview and I found one which actually didn’t seem so bad. I was very pleased; finally this was going to happen! He said he only had an hour, but being the seasoned interviewer that I am, this didn’t worry me. An hour is fine; much data can be collected in 60 minutes.

Well, the day finally came and I set off to the shopping mall about 30 minutes ahead of schedule to be sure to get a quiet table. I get there, I order coffee, and I sit down at the table right at the back of the café. It was private, it was quiet, and there really weren’t that many people there either. This seemed like it was going to work out after all.

About 15 minutes into my coffee, the café starts to fill up (who knew this café was so popular?!) and music starts playing, pretty loudly I might add. The minutes pass and I look at my watch. It’s time. He should be here. I realize I have no idea what this man looks like but right then a man walks in. I stand up and he walks over to the table next to mine where someone is waiting for him. False alarm. I sit down and wait. It’s five past by now and my phone rings. It’s him. He says he’ll be there in 10 minutes. Argh, that will only leave us with 45 minutes for the interview, but okay that’s fine, it’s better than nothing.

About 17 minutes later a man comes in, he’s looking around, I think that must be him so I get up and say his name. Bingo! He’s here! But right then I see he has a kid in tow. I really like children, don’t get me wrong, but as interviews tend to be private – which is what you kind of hope for as a researcher – bringing someone along is usually not a good idea. I sigh quietly to myself but smile. It’s okay, I’m not letting this faze me; he’s finally here. The kid is hungry and needs something to eat, they go to the counter and there is nothing he wants. He finally settles for a soft drink, the dad has some coffee, and 25 past the hour they’re finally making their way to my table. We now have 35 minutes left of the interview.

No problem, we can do this, 35 minutes is better than nothing. The music is still playing loudly, but whatever, my dictaphone has a really good mike. We start the interview and I realize that this man, ironically, has the softest voice of anyone I have ever met. I realize I can hardly hear a word he’s saying. I pray that the mike is picking up his voice anyway and I start reading lips like crazy.

The good news is that the café and the kid don’t seem to bother him at all. He’s very open when he talks about his experiences, but still I feel a bit disappointed. His story doesn’t seem to fit my understanding of opting out. Maybe there was something he wasn’t telling me? Maybe the café setting was a mistake after all, or maybe my lip-reading skills just weren’t up to par.

All this was going through my head when he suddenly said something important. This man practises aikido in his free time. He explains to me how in aikido you can’t resist whatever is coming at you, you have to accept it, and use that force to your advantage. You have to acknowledge and embrace it and use it for your next move. In other words, you just have to roll with it. He explained how this is a philosophy he adheres to in his practice as a chiropractor but also in life.

Wow. It triggers the most amazing light bulb moment in me. I’m not exactly new to research, but all of a sudden I realize I had been making the mistake that so many people make, but that you have to be really careful not to when doing research. Instead of really listening, I had been confirming what I already knew and trying to fit my male interviewees into the model I developed for my research on women opting out. After all, I am the expert on opting out. The thing is, although some of the men seem to fit into my model, all of them don’t, and at the time I wasn’t really exploring that possibility. I was just trying to confirm what I already knew.

No more. I still haven’t listened to the recording of that particular interview so I’m not sure if my dictaphone actually picked up any of what he said. But regardless of that, this was probably the most important interview I’ve had so far during this research project, and I am so grateful that this man took the time to teach me the importance of acceptance.

This goes for any situation in life, whether personal or professional. You may think you know what a person is saying or what he or she needs; you may think you know the best way forward. But if you don’t listen you may be totally off and things will, most likely, just backfire. If you stubbornly stick to your own agenda, you’re not going o get very far, or at least you’re not going to get there in the smoothest nor most productive of fashions.

They really are very wise, those people who practise aikido. We could all learn from them.

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