During his legendary career as a television personality, Art Linkletter gained a reputation as a superb interviewer. From presidents to preschoolers, Linkletter would goad people into making remarkably revealing statements.
Linkletter, 97, wrote that effective interviewers exhibit “sympathetic, encouraging, thoughtful listening” in his 1974 book How to Be a Super Salesman. He has often said that to learn from someone, you need to listen in the here-and-now rather than plan a witty comeback or think ahead to your next question.
According to Linkletter, many people feel insecure when they’re being interviewed. They grow self-conscious and worry about giving the “right” answer rather than speaking freely and honestly.
Your job as an interviewer—whether you’re screening job candidates or investigating a personnel issue—is to control your tone and body language. Follow Linkletter’s lead and respond on a human level without overdoing it.
Specifically, Linkletter liked to maintain eye contact when interviewing guests on his radio and television shows. He prepared carefully so that he didn’t need to glance at notes or look away for any reason.
He also stayed composed even if he heard something surprising. By not acting shocked or bursting into loud laughter at the slightest instigation, he set the stage for people to open up without expecting a raucous reaction.
When an employee makes a serious admission or confesses wrongdoing, don’t drop your jaw and look amazed. Instead, dig for more information without skipping a beat.
If an interviewee cracks a joke, smile just enough to acknowledge it and move on. If you act like a knee-slapping fool, you call too much attention to yourself and risk disrupting the conversational flow.
Finally, Linkletter took ridiculous remarks (by kids or adults) in stride. Instead of correcting them for being “wrong,” he encouraged them to elaborate so that he could learn more.