- Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind, and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast.
- She says CBS’ recent special with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry highlighted Oprah’s amazing interviewing skills.
- Morin says Oprah’s direct questions, reflective listening, and authentic interest in her guests’ stories encourage them to open up.
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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.