Oprah’s 7 best interview techniques that anyone can replicate, according to a psychotherapist

Oprah Winfrey interview Meghan and Harry
Oprah Winfrey spoke to Meghan and Harry in an interview that aired on CBS.

As a therapist and the host of The Verywell Mind Podcast, I see first-hand how the questions you ask and the way you ask them determine how open people are when they respond. Interviewers who help people feel comfortable encourage their interviewees to speak more freely.

Oprah’s interviewing skills have stood the test of time because she strikes a great balance between helping guests feel like they’re part of an intimate conversation while also helping her audience feel like they’re part of the interview.

Her recent interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry highlighted her skills as she got the couple to open up about sensitive subjects and their former life in the royal family. Here are seven reasons why Oprah is so good at asking questions that draw out candid, honest answers.

1. She is comfortable with silence

Silence feels uncomfortable for both the interviewer and the interviewee. And while many interviewers race to fill any pause that lasts more than a second or two, Oprah sits back and waits.

She knows her guests feel awkward too. And she lets them fill the gap.

The pause is often a sign that a guest is hesitating to share more information. When there’s an awkward silence, however, most guests will be eager to fill it – even if that means chiming in with the rest of a story that they’re hesitant to tell.

This is crucial as it means her guests often go on to share the harder parts of their stories or the raw emotions they’re experiencing.

2. She’s direct

Some interviewers sugar-coat uncomfortable questions. Others seem apologetic for asking about tough subjects. And a few seem to enjoy being intense in their questions as a way to create extra tension.

Oprah is kind when asking questions but she’s also direct. Her manner of asking tough questions in a matter-of-fact way helps people feel more comfortable answering.

After all, if you’re apologetic or you seem uncomfortable asking a question, people may think they should feel awkward about answering.

3. She uses reflective listening

People open up more when they know someone is really listening to them. But listening isn’t just about passively waiting. It’s about reflecting back what you hear to show you’re trying to truly understand.

When someone shares a story and then ends with a statement like, “That was so tough to deal with as a kid,” Oprah often responds by repeating back the last few words. Saying, “That sounds tough for you to deal with as a kid…” opens the door for them to keep talking.

4. She asks follow up questions

Oprah’s conversations are organic. She doesn’t just pick from a list of pre-written questions to ask her guests.

She asks follow-up questions that show she wants more information about what her guest just said. She shows she’s interested in taking a deeper dive into their wisdom and their experiences.

5. She doesn’t know all the answers

Some interviewers insist they only ask questions they already know the answers to so that they’re never surprised or thrown off guard. That’s definitely not Oprah’s approach.

Clearly, she conducts research on her guests. That information guides the question she asks. But, she also asks questions that people haven’t ever been asked before and she shows a genuine response to their answers.

6. She leans in

Oprah looks relaxed while she waits for her guests to answer her questions. This ensures that people being interviewed don’t feel rushed when answering questions.

She also leans in at just the right moment. Leaning forward in her chair when they’re sharing raw emotion sends a clear signal that she’s with them and wants them to keep going. People feel safe when they know they’re being heard.

7. The conversation is authentic

The conversation between Oprah and her guests appears authentic. The guests feel as though Oprah really wants to learn from them and the audience feels like they’re watching two people having a real conversation – rather than an expert interrogating someone about their story.

That authenticity is why Oprah is such a trusted resource. Her body language and facial expressions match the words coming out of her mouth.

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4 practices to help you separate work from home while working remotely, according to a psychotherapist

woman freelance wfh
Having an established work area can help you leave work behind at the end of the day.

Working from home blurs the line between “work time” and “free time.” On the plus side, you can throw some laundry in during the middle of a busy work day. On the flipside, you might struggle to watch TV at night without feeling a twinge of guilt that you don’t at least have your laptop in front of you.

The pandemic has definitely made the division between work and home even more complicated. For many families, home has become the gym, the office, and school. 

And while you don’t need to have a clear delineation between home and work all the time, a little separation between the two can help you feel more present when you’re working and allow you to fully enjoy your leisure time.

1. Establish a work area

Most people don’t have the luxury of having a dedicated home office. If you do, commit to working while you’re in the office and when you’re done, exit the room and leave work behind. 

If you don’t have a separate office, create a work area. This doesn’t have to be the place you physically work from all day (like the dining room table or the couch). Instead, it might be the place where you store your work-related items when you aren’t working.

If you can, put the laptop, piles of papers, and other work-related materials completely out of sight when you’re not working. Tuck them in a drawer or put them in a closet. 

Just tucking those items away can grant you some psychological relief during your off-time by signaling to your brain that you have permission to relax.

2. Change your clothes

While some people say they feel better wearing nice clothes while working from home, dressing up isn’t mandatory.

After all, when you’re at home, you might find wearing nice clothes adds more stress to your day because you have to worry about getting dog hair on your shirt and spilling your soup on your lap.

If you’re into more casual wear in the confines of your home, you can still use your attire to your psychological advantage. Simply change your clothes when you’re done working – even if that means replacing your green joggers with the black ones. 

There’s something about putting on different clothes that can help your brain see that it’s time for something new – even if it’s a lateral switch in outfits (as opposed to the downgrade from the business suit to the sweatpants).

You might even find you dress up more in your off time. If you’ve been trying to pass off your pajamas as business casual on a blurry Zoom call, you might find a trip the grocery store actually warrants a wardrobe upgrade.  Either way, a change of clothes can go a long way to helping you create a distinction between “work time” and “free time.”

3. Create a fake commute

Under normal circumstances, commutes are often the one thing that helps people prepare for the transition between work and home. Whether that commute involves listening to a podcast on a train or it’s a daily call to mom while driving on a country road, physical distance can help us create some psychological distance too.

So you might find it’s helpful to create a fake commute for yourself. Even if it’s just a walk around the block before you start working, a daily activity like this can signal your brain that you’re going from “home” to “work.”

I know one man who walks out his back door as if he’s going to work and then just re-enters through the front. He swears this helps him feel like he’s “going to work” again. So while his “commute” only lasts a minute or two, he finds the strategy helps him feel more effective.

4. Use a different page for work/home apps

If you have a lot of apps for work – like your work email or Slack channel – put them on a different screen on your smartphone. 

Separating your “fun” apps from your “work” apps can help you resist the temptation to check your work email at all hours of the day.

This can also help you enjoy your fun apps a little more. And signal to your brain that you have permission to have fun right now. 

Distinguishing work time from free time can go a long way toward helping you feel your best when you’re working from home. This can be key to preventing burnout and helping you perform at your best.

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5 therapist-recommended tips to stay mentally strong when you’re working from home

Woman doing a craft
Scheduling fun activities can help you stay mentally strong during isolation.

It’s hard to feel like the epitome of mental toughness when you’re sitting on the couch in your pajamas for the 250th day in a row armed with nothing but a laptop and a coffee-stained pile of papers.

amy morin psychotherapist
Amy Morin.

Working from home can feel a bit liberating while also a bit mundane. And over time, every day might blend together when your only coworker is your cat. 

For individuals who live alone, remote work can be quite isolating. No matter how many Zoom meetings you might have, staring at people through a screen might make you feel more disconnected than ever. 

On the other hand, some remote workers would give anything to get a few minutes of silence. Dealing with kids who are trying their hand at remote learning, a partner who speaks loudly on conference calls, and a neighbor’s dog who won’t stop barking can make your work day feel more like a circus than a serene office.

Fortunately, no matter what situation you find yourself in right in, there are a few things you can do to stay mentally strong while you’re working from home.

1. Create opportunities to get away from work

When you’re working from home, you might find that you sit on the couch with the TV on and your laptop in front of you almost all the time. Day blends into night and the line between “work” and “non-work” time gets fuzzy. This can cause you to feel as though you’re working all the time, which isn’t good for your psychological well-being.

Carve time into your schedule that allows you to get away from work. Close your laptop and watch TV or put your work-related items away at a certain time every evening. Create boundaries that allow you to relax without feeling like you have to respond to emails in an instant.

2. Schedule something fun

One of the best ways to feel good is by scheduling something fun. It sounds simplistic on the surface, but it really works.

Pleasant activity scheduling, as it’s often referred to in the therapy world, is a skill that combats depression. Researchers have found it’s a great way to help people feel better.

Scheduling a fun activity a few days into the future boosts your mood because you have something to look forward to. Then, when you actually do that activity, you get another boost in your mood. Your mood will stay elevated after the activity is over because you’ve created a positive memory. 

Of course, during the pandemic a “fun” activity might look a little different than you’re used to. But you might benefit from something as simple as deciding that you’re going to watch a movie on Friday night. Putting that in your schedule might not only increase the likelihood that you’ll actually do it, but it could also improve your psychological well-being.

3. Take care of your body

Your mind won’t stay strong if you’re neglecting your body. So beware of the tendency to stay up watching the late shows or the temptation to snack too much when you’re bored (and working seven steps away from the refrigerator).

Eating too much junk food, indulging in alcohol, skimping on sleep, and forgoing your workouts won’t just take a toll on your physical health – those unhealthy habits will also take a toll on your mental health.

So make sure you’re not neglecting yourself when you’re working from home. It’s easy to do – especially during the pandemic. But creating time to move your body and care for your basic needs is essential to functioning at your best. 

4. Balance social time and alone time

Whether you feel like you can’t get away from your family for five minutes, or the only human being you’ve seen in months is the delivery driver, social distancing has created some bizarre circumstances. 

Everyone needs both social time and solitude but the amount of time in which you need each one is unique to you. It’s important to know how much alone time you need to feel your best and how much time you need with people to thrive.

During the pandemic, you’ll likely need to get a little more creative with getting your needs met. From Zoom dinners with friends to setting aside time to read in a book in your room without the kids interrupting, get proactive about getting your needs met. 

5. Incorporate some mental strength exercises into your day

Just like it’s important to set aside time to work on building a strong, healthy body, it’s also important to work on building a strong mind.

Incorporating a few mental strength exercises into your day can go a long way toward helping you think, feel, and do your best.

There are many different exercises that can help you grow mentally stronger. Practicing gratitude, meditating, and naming your feelings are just a few simple strategies that can help you build mental muscle. 

Set aside time to do them and commit to daily practice. Your mental muscles need ongoing exercise to stay in shape the same way your physical muscles do.

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