Be yourself and respect, value, and esteem the user and their opinions. Ask interactive questions, and if something isn’t immediately clear to you, persevere. Don’t be afraid to ask for elaboration, no matter your skill level or experience interacting with users. You can ask something along the lines of, “Can you draw that out for me?” In this way, you keep the conversation productive and accurately capture what they say. It’s your job to learn from the interviewee, and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions to ensure you gain a clear understanding of what they’re sharing with you. During this one-on-one time you want to develop a rapport with the user that will establish the foundation for continued partnership throughout the product development process. Think of it an ongoing, collaborative relationship where your job is to create a safe space in which the user feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas from the outset. This enables you to set the stage for even greater productivity down the road and maximize the value of your collaboration with users in future phases of the product development process.
Ultimately, there’s no substitute for practice: the more interviews you conduct, the better you will be at deriving value from them. That can only come with time. If you’re just starting out, you might want to shadow an experienced researcher to listen or take notes or set up a dry-run session where they can provide you with feedback in a safe environment. With hands-on experience, you’ll be more prepared to pick up on nuances and conduct an effective interview. But remember, an interview is just one touchpoint of many in HCD-focused development and is complemented by iterative prototyping, demos, feedback gathering, usability testing, and retrospectives. You’ll get the best feedback when your user realizes that their opinions and time are valued as integral pieces of the full design and development process; they are critical to the success of the project throughout its life cycle, not just at the beginning.