Yesterday’s article was all about inconsistencies — inconsistencies between different perspectives, between people and place, between ideas and actions.
If you develop a process of listening, you will always find these inconsistencies. But they’re nothing to be feared or spurned. Instead, you can treat them as invitations to dig into your characters and their stories more deeply. You can use them as a roadmap to point you in the right direction. And if you follow that map, your story will be stronger for it.
Unfortunately, dealing with and resolving inconsistencies isn’t a particularly easy process.
Even though these things are difficult, they’re absolutely worth it. So here are a few of the ideas and techniques Stillmotion and Muse put to use when resolving inconsistencies in their interviews.
The power of cognitive dissonance
In the world of psychology, there’s a concept known as cognitive dissonance that’s extremely useful for storytellers and interviewers. Basically, it’s the mental tension we feel when we hold two conflicting ideas at the same time.
For example, you might say you value a healthy lifestyle, perhaps even doing yoga a few times a week, while also smoking. Or you might actively avoid big box stores like Walmart, while still buying a ton of stuff on Amazon. I’m definitely guilt of that one.
However, the storytelling value of cognitive dissonance comes when we make people aware of these conflicting ideas. When confronted with this information, our natural tendency is to minimize the dissonance we feel through rationalizing. This means we either bolster one of the ideas, reduce the other, or add a completely new idea that explains how they aren’t contradictory.
So, the health nut who also smokes might say they’re actively working on smoking less, or that they saw a new “study” about how regular yoga completely reverses the effects of smoking and makes people live forever.
This last point would be total BS, but in their mind, they would have resolved the conflict between the two ideas. And we as the storyteller would have a greater understanding of how they operate and what their priorities are. Our story would then be stronger because of that understanding.
So, when confronted about inconsistencies in our thinking, we’re psychologically driven to resolve them on the spot. This gives storytellers a powerful tool when it comes to dealing with the inconsistencies that arise in an interview because most people will feel compelled to work through them.
It’s a friendly invitation, not a confrontation.
When you talk to people about inconsistencies, your job is never to antagonize or embarrass, but to mutually search for the truth of the story you’re telling. If it feels like a confrontation, you've already lost the battle.
So always try to frame questions about inconsistencies as an invitation to deepen the story rather than as an attack on personal character. Come from a genuine place of curiosity — where you want to understand more about people and their motivations — rather than from a place where you think you already know the answers.
This will always be a fine line to walk, as some topics are touchy. It’s not unusual for a friendly conversation to turn into antagonistic one with just a few misplaced words. But the following guidelines are designed to keep you on the right track, even when you start asking tough questions.
Set the stage for honesty early
For starters, it all comes back to everything we talked about in day two of this series.
Your first job is to create a space where people feel comfortable, where they’re encouraged to share openly, honestly, and vulnerably. This is largely accomplished through sharing your own “why” for the project — your deeper reason for being there, or your deeper reason for making films in general.
It’s also helpful to occasionally share honest, personal stories and anecdotes of your own throughout the process. Remember, building trust and rapport with the interviewee is an ongoing process. So keep sharing and being open throughout the interview to maintain and bolster that connection.
Demonstrate the qualities you’d like to see
Humans are naturally prone to mimicry when we’re connecting with other people. We tend to imitate some of the small things they do, like smiling, looking away shyly, even talking with a slight accent.
As interviewers, we can use this to our advantage. Not only should our tone, body language, and energy be a representation of what we want to see from the interviewee during the process, but our choice of words can also help determine how interviewees respond.
So when digging into inconsistencies, your words should demonstrate that it’s about coming to a deeper understanding, not about making
Beyond that, working through and sharing some of your own instances of cognitive dissonance can help the interviewee feel more comfortable diving into their own. Speaking of which…
Remember, it’s a real conversation, not a performance
Being conversational rather than performative is our golden rule of interviews for a reason. It gets results. Taking a conversational approach almost always leads to better answers, more naturalism in how people speak, and perhaps most importantly, more genuine connections with the people in your story.
So try to remember that it’s not just a transactional thing where you ask questions and they give answers and that’s that. There should be real back and forth between you and them, real rapport. And that comes from listening, reacting, engaging, and sharing.
This conversational approach should also be used when you’re tackling inconsistencies.
Interviews should be the same way. It’s about coming to them from a place of respect and genuine curiosity.
If the interviewee resists, that’s ok. All is not lost.
Last, but not least, don’t worry if it feels like you can’t resolve an inconsistency right away or at all. There will be times where the interviewee isn’t ready, or just doesn’t want to go there. And that’s ok.
If it’s clear that a topic or question is off limits, don’t sweat it. Move on to something else and drop it. There’s no point in being antagonistic unless you’re ok with the fact that it might jeopardize the rest of the interview.
However, oftentimes if someone is uncomfortable with something at first, you can take a step back, talk about something else for a bit in order to build more trust and rapport, then circle back around to the uncomfortable question. In cases like these, it’s usually helpful to rephrase the question, or tackle it from a slightly different angle.
Alrighty, that about does it for day six. Here’s a quick recap of everything we’ve covered today.
- Inconsistencies will make your story stronger, but only if you try to resolve them as best you can.
- Resolving inconsistencies means respectfully challenging people about the things they say and do.
- Luckily, cognitive dissonance pushes us to resolve conflicting ideas. It’s in our nature to rationalize and try to figure out what’s going on, so interviewers should take advantage of that.
- There’s no better way to deal with inconsistencies than in the context of a friendly, honest conversation.
- Demonstrate key qualities you’d like to see from the interviewee. Your body language, tone, and choice of words will impact how they act, so be mindful and intentional about the example you’re setting.
- Some inconsistencies will remain unresolved because the interviewee just doesn’t want to go there, and that’s ok. But it can also be useful to circle back and try asking again from a different angle once you’ve built more trust with the person. Use your best judgement.
That's it for now. I’ll see you tomorrow for the last day of the series!