Tom Cruise jumped madly on her couch, Donald Trump first told her in 1988 that he wanted to run for president – and ruled out losing. With her, Michael Jackson became rambunctious about his plastic surgery in 1993—his only interview in 14 years. And she got to talk to Whitney Houston who hadn’t given an interview in seven years.
Somehow, talk show queen Oprah Winfrey gets people to feel the freedom to do and say things, while in some cases they were more reluctant to do so.
How does Oprah do that?
That’s what a psychotherapist and the author of an e-book on emotional intelligence were trying to figure out. They signed up for Business Insider and Inc. respectively. Magazine bent on Oprah’s umpteenth milestone: the interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
So far, 17.1 million people have been glued to the screen to hear from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex how the break with the British royal family has come about: among other things because of ‘lack of support in attacks by the press, defamation by members of the royal family and racism’.
Psychotherapist Amy Morin and author Bill Murphy Jr. In the high-profile conversation, they see a masterclass in interviewing and emotional intelligence, they write on Business Insider and Inc. magazine. Here are seven lessons the two experts filtered out of the interview.
1. Oprah is not going to happen overnight
Good preparation is essential to persuade people to join you for a revealing or non-revealing conversation. Admittedly, as the high priestess of the talk show, stars will soon think of her when they have something to reveal or confess. Cyclist Lance Armstrong appeared on Oprah after he was found to be the linchpin in a major doping scandal. Still, Oprah does a lot more than read up and make phone calls. According to author Murphy, she first lays a good foundation for the interview to take place. In the case of Meghan and Harry, she entered into a relationship by reaching out to the couple, according to The New York Times for the first time in early 2018. A meeting in London followed, and then Winfrey invited Meghan’s mother to her home in California. Two months after the acquaintance, Oprah was invited to the couple’s royal wedding.
“This relationship was built long before this interview was decided,” Murphy wrote. “Emotionally intelligent people understand that you have to invest time to make the other person feel comfortable.”
2. Oprah gives undivided attention
According to author Bill Murphy, Oprah spoke alone with Meghan for an hour before Harry joined.“Emotionally intelligent people know that people respond to undivided attention.”
According to Murphy, you achieve the following with your interlocutor:
- I am important to this person.
- This person really wants to know what I have to say.
- And in the best case scenario: I am free to say what I really think and believe.
Admittedly, we don’t know why Meghan said certain things, but according to Murphy, this structure allowed Oprah to reap:
- An anecdote about Meghan’s first meeting with Queen Elizabeth.
- Details about her relationship with other members of the royal family.
- Candor about her mental health during the crisis.
- The revelation that members of the royal family discussed his possible skin color before the birth of their son Archie. Oprah doesn’t suggest answers based on her experience, even if it’s relevant
In 1996, Oprah Winfrey interviewed Sarah Ferguson, Prince Andrew’s ex-wife, on much the same topics as those in the Harry and Meghan interview. But she never cited it, made no comparisons to that interview, and never suggested answers based on her experience with “Fergie.”
Instead, she focused 100 percent on Meghan and Harry’s experiences, Murphy analyzes. “She always opted for interactions that focused on her conversation partners.”
4. Oprah has no problem with silences, she can use that
Everyone knows the feeling of discomfort when there is a silence in a conversation. Most people can’t handle this well. Others do and Oprah is one of them. “Where most interviewers rush to fill any silence that lasts more than a second or two, Oprah sits back and waits,” psychotherapist Amy Morin wrote to Business Insider.
This gives her an advantage in conversation with people who are less able to deal with silences. “She knows that guests feel that discomfort too and lets them fill the silence.”
A pause, according to Morin, is often a sign that a guest is hesitant to share more information. If the silence lasts just a little too long, the guest will want to fill it – and may be more likely to start talking about a sensitive detail due to the feeling of discomfort.
“It’s crucial because it means her guests are more likely to reveal the difficult parts of their story or their emotions,” concludes Morin. Oprah is direct
Oprah never asks difficult questions in an apologetic or harsh way, as other interviewers sometimes do. She is always nice, but also direct, analyzes psychotherapist Amy Morin.“After all, if you yourself show discomfort with a question, people may think they should be uncomfortable with it too,” Morin writes. Oprah uses reflective listening
According to psychotherapist Amy Morin, people tend to open up more if you offer them a listening ear. But listening does not mean passively listening to someone. Just notice how Oprah always shows that she really listens. She does that as follows:
“When someone tells a story that ends with ‘I had a hard time dealing with that as a child’, Oprah often responds with a sentence where she repeats the last words. For example: “That sounds like something you had a hard time dealing with as a child.” This opens the door for her interlocutor to continue talking.”
7. Oprah gives a sense of security
Oprah is at ease when she asks questions and it shows on her guests. They don’t feel pressured to answer. She also leans forward at the right time when guests are telling a difficult story, Morin writes. With this, the talk show host shows that she is there for her guest and would like to hear more. According to Morin, people feel safe when they are listened to. Read more conversation tips:
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