"The truth? You can't handle the truth"
The problem with research is that most people, intentionally or not, don't tell the truth.
Sometimes they can't articulate how they feel.
Sometimes they tell you what they think you want to hear. Or what is socially acceptable.
For example, most pollsters think that in the 1992 UK General Election, when the Tories got a majority when all the research predicted a hung parliament, it was because lots of folks thought voting Tory was a social no-no and even worse, some couldn't say they wouldn't vote for a bald, ginger welshman.
In group situations, we tend to conform to the group dynamic, or the person with the loudest voice.
Of course, this mostly means not bothering asking questions and observing. As I've said before, go to the jungle, not the zoo.
But still, we all have to get involved in primary research in living rooms and hotels. Like it or not.
Clients tend to lie as well. Not in a bad way though. It's just that it's hard to disagree with self confident, pushy agency types. Even worse, if you have a close relationship, they sometimes don't want to make you feel bad.
Suits can be that way with planners and creatives too. In the spirit of keeping everyone happy, it's tempting to say what people want to hear then do something else.
So how do you get to the truth?
Jeff Hancock and his mates at Cornell University, ran an experiment where they got people to record all their conversations about the times they lied.
They found that people are twice as likely to have lied in face to face situation as they are in an email. Apparently because emails are recorded and your words can come back to haunt you.
In fact, he argues that it's possible the impersonal web might actually breed more honesty from the permanence of writing stuff down.
Take this with a large pinch of salt, since, in the case of social media, in the UK at least, there's lots of evidence that our social persona is a lot more about who we want to be than we are. The Future Foundation found that a significant number of people agree, "I wish I was more like the image I maintain in social media" (but since this is research I guess you need to by cynical about that too!!)
But at least you're getting to the truth of how folks want to be seen, which is still massively valuable.
Meanwhile, in a face face to face situation, language becomes more impersonal more 'he', 'they' and 'it' rather than 'me' 'mine' or 'ours'. Also, they try to give shorter, less detailed answers to avoid getting caught out. This is far more common than 'body' language where good liars can employ a decent poker face, or even 'poker body'.
In short, if you want to be told the truth, as someone to send you an email. If you want to catch out a liar, close your eyes and open your ears.
So in research, get people to write down responses to stimulus, don't just get verbal responses. In fact, do as many written tasks as you can. In my view, pre-tasks that people know will be shared are particularly useful.
And try and listen to how people are talking, rather than watching. Record the dialogue and listen after, within the distortion of seeing the person.
In the job, get both internal and external people to confirm stuff by email. Look for those impersonal pronouns.
And learn to appreciate suits that religiously do contact reports, especially if they get clients to sign then off. It just might keep suits and clients a little more honest.
Maybe that's an advantage of being a planner. There isn't that much you have to write down apart from a brief.
And another reason to get out of your bubble and go and talk to people. Not only do ideas happen quicker that way, you can get away with murder.