Research Wisdom from Maya Angelou

Like many people, I was saddened by the passing of author Maya Angelou last week. After her death, I learned that she had once been a market research interviewer. In A Song Flung up From Heaven, Angelou recounts the lines she was expected to recite as her “doorstep introduction:”

“Good morning, I am working for a company that wants to improve the quality of the goods you buy.  I’d like to ask you a few questions.  Your answers will ensure that you will find better food in your supermarket and probably at a reduced price.”

She goes on to describe her reaction to this script:

“The person who wrote those lines, for interviewers to use with black women, knew nothing of black women.  If I had dared utter such claptrap, at best I would have been laughed off the porch or at worst told to get the hell away from the woman’s door. I knew that a straight back and straight talk would get the black woman’s attention every time.”

The issue of interviewer responsiveness in introductions is one I have studied and written about extensively, and I was delighted to learn that, years before I was even born, interviewers like Angelou had figured out the necessity of adapting their own introductory scripts:

 “Good morning.  I have a job asking questions.”

 ‘At first there would be wariness. “What questions? Why me?”

 “There are some companies that want to know which products are popular in the black community and which are not.”

 “Why do they care?”

 “They care because if you don’t like what they are selling, you won’t buy, and they want to fix it so you will.”

 “Yeah, that makes sense. Come on in.”

Rest in Peace, Dr. Angelou.

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Founder of Southpaw Insights