Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

The Deep Breath

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This is a quickie.

I’ve noticed that some questions make some people take very deep breaths before they answer. The American Stress Institute says a deep breath is a signal that someone is trying to relieve stress about a situation. When we are frightened or simply stressed, we tend to hold our breath or take rapid, shallow breaths. Our hearts pound and muscles clench as our adrenaline kicks in.

To me, deep breaths seem to almost always be a signal of one of three things:

(1) The guest doesn’t know the subject and are afraid their lack of knowledge will cause them to embarrass themselves, or

(2) They know the subject very well and are afraid their answer might reveal something about themselves they may not want to reveal, or sometimes,

(3) They are relieved that I didn’t ask a question they thought was coming.

Then again, sometimes people just forget to breathe.

You might sometimes hear the same type of response to 1 & 2; evasive, non-specific or rambling. For number 3, the guest might suddenly perk up and their responses get brighter because they are more relaxed.

If you’re interviewing someone and you hear a deep breath, remember the trigger or the context. There is something there somewhere that may spark a reveal later.

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Written by Interviewer

April 8, 2014 at 04:00

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