Calin Chua from FACE’s Singapore office, on the role of personality in research:
This blog post is born out of the challenges that both clients and researchers face in recruiting and speaking to the right participants.
Being articulate is an attribute that recruiters and researchers seek in every research participant. We believe this verbal fluency indicates that we will be able to tease out deeper insights from them to help us build a strong and richer story.
Despite the rigour recruiters go through to find articulate research participants, we still get two common comments from clients: either some people aren’t participating enough, or others are overly fired up. If we had screened all the participants on their ability to articulate their thoughts, why do we still face these situations?
To unpack this question, there are a few factors to address as we unravel the heart of the issue:
- Research participants’ personalities: extrovert or introvert
- Nature of the research methodology: group or individual; offline or online
- Nature of the research objectives: insights generation or concept creation
Are extroverts always the best participants?
Let’s start off with the nature of research participants. Some recruiters seem to practice a common understanding that people who are extroverts are articulate. They believe that if someone is an extrovert, he/she is naturally outgoing, which means he/she is able to talk a lot in front of strangers, and is therefore articulate.
But that logic makes a big leap: being good at talking isn’t the same thing has having something to say. And we may end up with some fired-up consumers –and then the rest of the story is what all researchers and clients are familiar with: managing dominating voices to ensure there is a balanced conversation within the group.
While it is the moderator’s job to manage the group’s dynamic, it would still be a tough challenge to get constructive comments from someone who is only good at critiquing ideas. We need a thinker, not a speaker. We need ideas, not more issues.
What about introverts?
US writer Susan Cain’s TED talk has driven a lot of attention on social media towards introverts. Her presentation demystified the stereotype of introverts as “antisocial”, and unveiled the understated virtues this personality can display. Introverts are less quick to warm up to new faces but they can still be sociable people. Introverts may not be the first to contribute an idea because they are finessing a big thought. Introverts are great listeners and observers, which means they are processing their thoughts and not fighting to talk.
Different personalities fit different research methods
This brings us to our next factor to address – research methodology. At FACE, we run co-creation workshops, online communities and in-depth interviews. These methodologies are extremely different in nature, which calls for different dynamics and types of participants.
Although introverts may take longer to warm up at a co-creation workshop, this is not to say that they should therefore be excluded from group setting research studies. Research participants should all be equally screened for their ability to work with others in a group setting.
In a recent experience at a co-creation workshop in China, all the participants were screened for their ability to articulate themselves and to be extrovert by nature. However, when they all came together, some were quieter and less participative during the group discussion. To ensure that every participant spoke up during the discussion, instead of mixing the articulate and quieter together, I decided to group all the quieter ones together. Interestingly, people in the “quiet” group started speaking up and contributing pretty good ideas. (Well, someone will have to start speaking somehow!)
This highlights another interesting finding that someone might be an extrovert under a setting but an introvert in another. This further strengthens the need to go beyond hunting for obvious personality traits, but to measure the desired behaviour that best fit the research methodology.
When dealing with online community research where people are more anonymous, it is less about finding research participants who are sociable and interactive, but more about their familiarity interacting through the medium. Online communities and self-ethnographies are designed to give people time and personal space to think and respond. Hence, these approaches would be excellent setting for introverts to contemplate over the questions and form their thoughts, without the pressure to socialise with a larger group.
The research objective should determine the participants we pick too
As brands face stronger challenge with engaging consumers, researchers are faced with more complex questions to answer, which means research participants are being asked some pretty challenging questions too. Also at FACE, we believe strongly in collaborating with consumers to create ideas. For this to happen, we need thinkers not mindless talkers, creators not solely critics.
In another communication development study, a client lamented that consumers tend to comment negatively on the creative work but are less able to provide ideas on how to improve it. Client wants to know what is wrong with the idea but also what can be done right. Without collaborators, it is challenging to build wilder, bigger and better ideas. Introverts are known to be more contemplative, thinking and observant. We believe there is a lot of value tapping into these characteristics.
At the end of the day, brands are marketing to consumers who can be extroverts or introverts. Eliminating or focusing only on either type during research stage may result in a bias in the final idea direction and tonality.
This open doors to think beyond traditional screening approaches – perhaps it is less about hunting for articulate consumers through a series of standard attitudinal questions to tease out for an extrovert, but more about assessing people’s ability to think, process and create idea (with others).
At FACE, we introduce additional rigour into the screening process by asking interesting and challenging questions to understand their personality and capabilities better. Given that every project brief is different, methodology is prescribed to address the project objectives, so should recruitment of the type of research participant. Finding a research participant is easy but finding a great one takes extra thought and effort.
Read more of our Asia team’s thoughts on research recruitment, with Nicole Li’s essay on “Going beyond ‘creative consumers’ for co-creation”
Or if you’d like to talk to the team about recruiting for a project of your own, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.