Conducting market research is all about talking to people. After all, it’s our job’s aim to understand people’s drives, habits, and opinions. In Stratega, we conduct qualitative studies concerning various topics for various industries. We discuss people’s shopping for clothes habits, talk about their attitude towards social and economic changes, but also learn about their fears and worries related to their health condition or general life situation. As a result, frequently we discover people’s intimate experiences and emotions since it happens to cover sensitive topics in focus groups. How to handle them professionally? Read more to find out!

Is it the right methodology?

It depends. In general, it seems that individual interviews are generally more suitable for sensitive topics. They guarantee more privacy, allow to establish a rapport and to build relationships with respondents easier. This, in turn, makes the interview smooth and provides valuable insights and even more importantly, makes our respondents feel secure and comfortable.

Yet, depending on the study design, the sample, or the topic, focus groups might occur relevant and useful. For instance, some specialists argue that group dynamics might actually stimulate the discussion as well as normalize some of the experience. Hearing other people speak about some difficult experiences and their feelings, respondents might feel reassured and comforted that what they experience and feel also happen to others and is normal. The sense that “we’re all in the same boat” might actually encourage people to open. 

How to handle sensitive topics in focus groups?

1. Be prepared

Learn as much as you can on the issues you’re going to discuss. There’s nothing more discouraging than the ignorant interlocutor, so don’t let that happen. Read the study characteristics, research the topic thoroughly, ask any necessary questions related to the discussion guide to understand what you’ll be dealing with. Also, remember that sensitive topics might occur in discussions on literally any issue, so be prepared.

2. Take care of the research setting

Confirm all the study details with the respondents and clarify any questions or doubts they might have. But most of all, ensure confidentiality and take care of the research setting to make your respondents feel comfortable. No passers-by behind the window, no strangers entering the room unexpectedly etc. Sounds obvious? Maybe, but it’s never too much caution as regards safety and privacy. 

3. Be empathetic

Respect the respondents’ right to decide on what they would like to and what they wouldn’t like to disclose to you. Even though they agreed to participate, they don’t have to respond to all questions in detail.

Acknowledge the emotions that might occur. Pay attention, listen carefully, paraphrase what you hear. Try to reflect the emotional atmosphere. But also, find the balance between the research goals and digging deep. Know when to change the topic and move to another question. It’s all about your soft skills – communication skills, openness, and understanding.

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