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Writing

Interviewing

Malcolm Gladwell

Lesson time 15:28 min

The interview is the critical foundation for developing character in nonfiction. Malcolm teaches you how to conduct an interview to uncover what is uniquely interesting about your subject.

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Malcolm Gladwell
Teaches Writing
In 24 lessons, the author of Blink and The Tipping Point teaches you how to find, research, and write stories that capture big ideas.
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I've never thought I was a great interviewer because I'm not capable of getting someone to tell me something they don't want to tell me. So there's one class of epic, "60 Minutes" interviewer, or who is like a prosecutor, who will extract some truth from an unwilling subject. I can't do that. Not even close. In fact, when I do get something that I sense they didn't want to tell me, my first impulse is to say to them, I'm not going to report that. Or are you sure you want to tell me that? I had an interview. I interviewed this guy last month for my book. And he's an old counterintelligence officer, who was involved in a very famous spy case. And at the end of the interview, he told me something that he should not have told me! It was something that would get him and put him in jail. And I was like, please stop! And I know that is the anti-journalistic impulse. But I don't want to put you in harm's way in the course of some dumb story. You will get in trouble. It was fascinating, what he told me. And I wish I could say that now. So I'm another kind of interviewer. Which is that I'm trying to get you to be yourself. I want to draw out your best self. The central problem that all people have, and particularly interesting people, is that they're not always aware of why they're interesting. So the job of the writer is not to supply the ideas in any kind of encounter. It is to be patient enough to find the ideas in any encounter. So you just have to know where to look, and know how to listen, and know how to push people in the right direction. And make sure they don't go off on a tangent. When I was describing the guy who did the study about, should you arrest the husband in a domestic disturbance? I don't know whether he realizes how profoundly interesting that insight was. And nor is he aware of how-- I mean, he might be aware in some ways of-- it's a difficult insight. Because he's saying we should treat people differently according to their level of education. I don't know how you do that. And also, he's saying that your immediate impulse when someone does something wrong is to arrest them. And you should sometimes resist that because of something that might happen a month from now, or two months from now. That's an incredibly fascinating thought. But because he's lived with that, and did the research, and has talked about it 50 times, he may not understand how problematic that is, or how fascinating it is. Or he's in the world of criminologists. And his friend in his little circle, that's the way they think. So my job is to listen and to appreciate what he's saying. And all I have to do is to bring myself to it. And I bring my naive self. My job is not to be a criminologist like him. It's to react as a non-criminologist and to say, wait a minute. I've never heard of this before. That's crazy. How do you do that? What do people say when you went to them and said, don't arrest the poor husbands? So it's abo...


Transform the ordinary

Ketchup. Crime. Quarterbacks. Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell’s books, these ordinary subjects have helped millions of readers grasp complex ideas like behavioral economics and performance prediction. Now, the renowned storyteller and best-selling author of Blink and The Tipping Point is teaching his first online writing class. Craft stories that captivate by learning how Malcolm researches topics, crafts characters, and distills big ideas into simple, powerful narratives.



Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

It was insightful and inspiring. I got too the point where I would frequently hit Pause so as to review my own work, add notes, and at times completely restructure the plot.

Excellent story teller with insights in how and why he writes. As in all learning, you find nuggets that help you understand that which you found complicated before. Clarity is the word I am looking for. In this class I found several.

I love MasterClass. I am enjoying the classes and gaining valuable wisdom.

Love it. The piece of the puzzle that leaves people guessing, gives me permission to do so. I can so relate to Malcolm’s style.


Comments

Carolyn H.

Loved idea of humility as a tactic during interviewing and as a moral obligation we need to pursue!

Globalman

How I wish I had seen this 30 years ago but of course there was no internet then. I interviewed someone for a book and it was hard going. Only one thing he says that I instinctively realised ...... Time. One or two hours was the limit and 2 or 3 times per week. His comments about what makes a good and bad interview finally explained in words what I've often felt but couldn't put words to. My only key should have been that So many interviews I have seen find me frustratedly bellowing at the screen telling the interviewer to shut up. Now I have the answer ........ thank you. The comments about Late Night shows were quite accurate but really not limited to Late Night it relates to all such talk shows. Most shows like that going back to the 1960's UK and USA are mutual exploitations. The most recent and popular in the UK is Graham Norton. Celebrities appear to do publicity for their latest film, book, stage show, music album etc and the interviewer uses them as a springboard for his/her own ego and need to sparkle for attention which is what they are paid for. Oprah was also one of those back in the day. She was good at acting like she cared but was only interested in promoting herself as well as working out her own psychological problems. It was a bit of free therapy for her. I suspect she often benefited more for herself than did her often troubled guests. The most insufferable and diabolical are people like that fraud dr. Phil. Basically if an interviewer ends up talking about him/herself or injecting their own relate-able stories even for an article or book they are bad interviewers. Even though there is no audience other than the interviewee it is still a form of self promotion probably due to a wounded ego and/or lack of self worth.

A fellow student

I started with a notepad and ended up washing the dishes as I was listening to this. Nothing particularly interesting.

Gladys P.

Humility as both a trait and a tactic was an eye-opener, not just for conducting interviews but generally for all conversations. It pays to show more interest to the person you talk to, to genuinely listen and not just share my experience on the subject matter. Taking a step back and consciously telling myself that the other person has a more fascinating story to tell, is a remarkable life-lesson.

Elizabeth R.

Of course, I work in the field of DV, and how I would analyze the story regarding DV is that middle class and upper class males have the money to defend themselves and the influence to prevent rearrest. This is why it is very hard to get DV shelters and services for women in middle and upper class circles, because the theory is that men in this class rarely offend, or if they do, they don't reoffend. However, what is really going on is middle class and upper class males manipulate the system, find ways to make their victim look less credible, and often shift the DV to economic and coercive control. Lower class males don't have that option. So the question is, when you obtain information from a subject, do you actually believe what they are saying, should you train a critical eye on what experts are telling you and consider whether they are possibly biased, or the funding they have received impacts the conclusions they draw.

A fellow student

Dude......you’ve blown my cover...I always use humility and even naïveté to engage someone...(.so they don’t ask about me.)...tee hee.....then they are just so pleased at how well the “conversation” went....

C Alex G.

It’s not just late night shows that aren’t really interviewing. Have you noticed Oprah’s self-absorbed version of interviewing, the derailment of every single guest.

Ekin Ö.

Wait! That's a great word to show you're listening, and you actually want to learn. I experience that a lot of people don't really listen. They only wait for their turn to speak. I saw that this common trait makes me want to speak less and less because I know I'm speaking in vain. I try to do the opposite when I'm listening to someone. Even though I have something to say, the first thing I do is to say "Wait!" and ask for a thing that I don't understand.

Brett G.

Okay, two lessons in a row I'm applying to work (rather than writing). We literally just decided last week to put humility in our employee reviews as something they will be measured on in the office. Obviously its subjective, but its a big part of our culture and we realized that some people need a nudge, materials, lessons or a smack in the head to get a bit more humble with all they interact internally and externally. Love the points MG makes on this subject.

KONRAD R.

Eternal patience Pardon me if I try to bridge what Mr.Gladwell is discussing with what I know of Michelangelo. “Genius is eternal patience. ” ― Michelangelo Buonarroti Mr.Gladwell says you need to be patient enough to find the ideas, then later he says, you need to be naive in a way. Both these ideas say volumes to me. They are very artistic and wise. Take the above quote by Michelangelo, “Genius is eternal patience. ” What did eternal patience mean to him and what does it say about Michelangelo knowing what you know about him and the likely truth about him? Take Michelangelo in the raw, what was the essence of him and what did he do? He carved masterpieces out of pure white Carrera marble. I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. —Michelangelo Per this subject, what is the hardest part? Is it labor? They say Mike buzz-sawed through marble faster than quarrymen. Was it the spark of genius? Yeah, this is the big bang of wonderments, but not exactly! I would say, Michelangelo, illustrated in his most famous paintings of God. The Creation of Adam The Creation of the Sun and Moon The divine spark of creation. If we dig much more in-depth and into Roman mythology, it’s about creating and or crossing of bridges. The Creation of the Sun and Moon The Creation of Adam The divine spark of creation. If we dig much more in-depth and into Roman mythology, it’s about creating and or crossing of bridges. “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.” ― Michelangelo Buonarroti If you will entertain my speculation about Michelangelo, His biggest shortcoming was staying humble, and his most significant victories came after finding his artistic naivety from which genius traveled. Back in his day, they did not believe man possessed genius; they believed it was a spirit and or god. Thus, the agony and the ecstasy! PS. Thank god Mr.Gladwell has to tell people to slow down. I often feel so stupid asking people to slow down.