Meditation and the Art of Moderating
Handling Tough Moments
Imagine you are seated at the head of a conference table and you open a focus group discussion asking participants how they feel about their health insurance plan. And the first person who responds says she does not like her plan because she received poor care that led to amputation of her leg. And imagine you still have 90 minutes to go and you don’t want the group’s energy or the discussion to get derailed. What do you do?
This actually happened to me about 15 years ago. I was personally shocked and momentarily caught off-guard by the comment. But I managed to connect with the participant, acknowledging what she had just shared. I proceeded to uncover what others had to say — which included more typical responses of being happy or unhappy due to cost or access.
In the end, the group was successful and the client obtained the desired insights tied to the research objectives. I felt fortunate, because I knew it could have gone a different way.
We Are only Human
As moderators, we have to keep our cool. There are many things we need to juggle during a live focus group or interview session. We need to multi-task: asking the questions, managing participation, keeping track of research objectives, watching the time, etc.
During sessions, we never know what will come. Things might not go as planned: participants may arrive late, first-time client observers may want to add questions that are off-topic to a discussion guide that is already packed, someone may become ill in the group, etc. We need to be able to respond mindfully and wisely.
To ensure participants feel safe, secure, and comfortable, we personally also need to feel the same. When we have an off day, we need to find a way to get our energy centered and grounded.
Meditation to the Rescue
There are things we can do to become present with ourselves so that we can be present with others. Having a self-connecting routine or ritual prior to beginning an interview or focus group is a good start.
I find daily meditation and yoga practice to be an invaluable self-connecting training. I can more easily find the mental and emotional space to make wise choices in the moment. I am also better able to have compassion for others and myself.
In fact, I have found meditation and yoga to be so beneficial in my life and career that I became a certified yoga instructor 15 years ago! (I now teach a community yoga class on most Saturdays as a volunteer.)
Some self-connecting tools to explore:
Regina Szyszkiewicz, MA, of Ten People Talking loves qualitative research. She is a master moderator who has conducted over a thousand qualitative sessions. Regina has deep experience in both in-person and online qualitative methods. Regina received her MA from the University of Illinois in Applied Sociology / Market Research. She served on QRCA’s board from 2016-2018 and currently serves as a co-chair of QRCA’s Online Special Interest Group.