Projective and Enabling Techniques

Minds are Hard to Read

People are complicated. The conflict between our real self and our ideal self creates dissonance in our minds. Our words and actions are often shaped by how we want others to perceive us. We do not always say what we mean or mean what we say.

The reluctance to say what we really think stems from the fear that our thoughts might not be politically, socially or intellectually correct. To avoid embarrassment, and preserve our self-esteem, we use defence mechanisms, and become experts in making ourselves sound rational.

Driven by the need to preserve our image, our responses are mostly stereotypic; they are shaped by how we want others to perceive us. Only occasionally do we express our heartfelt desires and feelings.

And while people function on both rational and emotional levels, emotions emanating from core values, drive commitment and motivation. For instance, if we ask a motorcyclist why he bought an expensive racy motorbike, he might cite rational reasons such as speed, style and performance. However emotive reasons such as the desire to project a cool, macho image may be of far greater significance. Similarly, emotive reasons such as status and prestige may have greater bearing than rational ones such as performance, on why people choose to buy expensive cars.

There are also times when people find it difficult to verbalize their thoughts and feelings, and they are unable to express their emotions in words. For instance, they may find it hard to articulate their feelings for a product such as a motorcycle or express their relationship with a brand like Harley Davidson.

Projective and Enabling Techniques Unlock People’s Minds

Due to the barriers cited earlier, asking direct questions in qualitative research might not elicit the complete answer nor reveal the underlying issues. To circumvent these barriers, researchers employ a wide range of projective and enabling techniques that reduce the gravity of the subject, by viewing the topic from another perspective. They facilitate a deeper exploration of a person’s feelings and bring forth emotions into the open in a way that she feels comfortable with; enabling researchers to understand in greater detail how consumers relate to a subject.

Enabling techniques facilitate the process by making respondents feel more comfortable in expressing their feelings. Projective techniques on the other hand, are indirect interviewing methods which enable participants to project their thoughts, beliefs and feelings onto a third party or into some task situation.

Enabling exercises have no interpretive value; they purely act as facilitators. Projective exercises, on the other hand, can reveal participants’ thoughts, feelings and motives.

The projective techniques involve individual/group exercises, followed by discussion and reflection. The moderator probes to decipher the inner thoughts of the respondents. She links individual responses with the group, to gauge whether the views that are expressed have broader appeal. Her aim is to keep the participants talking in an effort to expand and further explore the thoughts, beliefs and feelings that are expressed by the participants.

She also pays attention to body language. From an analytical standpoint, in addition to the verbal responses, the participants’ body language reveals their states of mind, as well as their attitudes, feelings and intentions.

Some commonly used projective techniques are described in the following sections.

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