9.2.2 Entering Another Person’s World: The Exchange Grid

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With this approach, the interviewees don’t simply examine one another’s

constructs and explore the meanings at a distance, as it were. You put them into

a situation in which they have to actually use one another’s constructs, not

simply examine them, and there are two ways in which this can happen, as

you will see at step 7 of the procedure.

(1) Negotiate a confidentiality contract. Before you start to take the group

through the basic elicitation procedure, make sure that everyone knows that

they will be showing their grids to each other. Assure them that the grid is a

very powerful technique in that it can get beyond the ‘motherhoods’ and ‘first

approximations’, but that it is completely safe, in the sense that each person

remains in control of what they write on their grid sheet. If any doesn’t wish to

share something that’s too private, they can reword what they write onto the

sheet, or think of something else to write.

 (2) Agree a set of elements sensible to all. Usually, the topic is the same for

both interviewees, and the elements are specified in the same way for both. In

this case, you could:

. supply the same set of elements to everyone;

. elicit elements, each person providing his or her own elements under

categories which are common to all.

(See Section 3.2.2 on choosing elements.) The first time you were doing this

activity with these particular people, you wouldn’t arrive at the elements

through discussion, and you wouldn’t let each person choose their own

elements completely freely.

(3) Agree appropriate anonymity arrangements for elements. Because they

will be looking at each other’s grids, you may need to get the interviewees to

anonymise the elements on their grids. For example, if the topic is about ‘our

bosses in this firm’, or ‘our fellow students’, the interviewees may wish to use

initials in place of names – or even to resort to numbers. One technique here is

to number the element spaces on the grid sheet, and ask each interviewee to jot

the names which correspond to each element on a separate sheet of paper,

which they show to no one. A lot depends on the exact nature of the topic, and

the circumstances in which this event takes place. This isn’t a difficult issue,

but it is important and you need to think it through in advance.

(4) Elicit the repertory grids. As in Section 3.1.2, each person fills in their own

grid sheet for themselves. You could do this in separate sessions with each

interviewee, or you could do this in a group setting. (You will find that

facilitation is rather more structured than with the simple partnering

procedure described in Section 9.2.1, incidentally, so you are unlikely to be

working with many pairs of people at the same time.) Consider using a

common qualifying phrase (see Sections 3.2.1 and 3.2.3); do spend time in

laddering down, so that each grid is as specific and complete, from the

interviewee’s point of view, as possible. An example from one pair of

interviewees is shown as Table 9.4.

(5) Photocopy each grid, and Tipp-Ex out the ratings on the photocopy.

That’s all you need to do. There is no need to reorder the constructs so that

similar ones are in the same position, as you did in step 2 of Section 9.1.3,

when you followed the messy change grid procedure.

(6) Put the interviewees into pairs, calling one person in each pair ‘A’, and

the other ‘B’; get A and B to exchange the photocopies of their own grids. (To

make the instructions easier to follow, assume in this instance that A is a male

and B is a female.) So Mr A works with the photocopy of Ms B’s grid: he can

see Ms B’s elements and constructs, but not Ms B’s ratings. Similarly, Ms B

Table 9.4 Two different interviewees’ grids, Mr A and Ms B

Construct Dr JF Mr PMcS Prof. AW Ms AK Dr LT Dr TN

A1 Clear, understandable 1 3 3 2 1 5 Difficult to follow

A2 Makes it interesting 1 2 3 4 1 5 Dull and boring

A3 Easy-going 2 5 4 1 3 4 Tense and preoccupied

A4 An all-rounder 2 4 5 1 4 3 Very specialised

A5 Lenient marker 2 2 3 1 5 4 Strict marker

A6 Good tutorial skills 1 2 3 2 5 4 Doesn’t know how to discuss

A7 Good delivery 2 1 1 2 3 5 Talks too quietly and mumbles

A8 Makes me laugh 1 1 5 2 4 5 Rather solemn

B1 Concerned about the students:

sees them as part of job

3 1 4 4 2 5 Doesn’t give a toss about the

students, just own research

B2 Confident and funny 2 1 2 2 4 5 Poor lecturer: too nervous

B3 Gives clear essay feedback 3 3 4 1 4 5 Leaves you stranded: criticisms

not useful

B4 Paces the lecture to students’


1 1 2 3 4 5 Rushes difficult material

during lectures

B5 Constantly develops material,

keeps it fresh

3 2 1 5 3 4 Repetitively covers years-old


B6 Equal and enthusiastic

attention to all

1 4 2 2 5 3 Has favourites among the


B7 Encourages questions and


1 2 2 3 4 5 Belittles students’ ideas and

discourages their


The topic is ‘how I feel about my lecturers’. Both grids were obtained on the same occasion.

Table 9.5 B’s attempt to reproduce A’s grid

Construct Dr JF Mr PMcS Prof. AW Ms AK Dr LT Dr TN

A1 Clear, understandable 1 3 3 2 1 5 Difficult to follow

A2 Makes it interesting 1 2 3 4 1 5 Dull and boring

A3 Easy-going 2 5 4 1 3 4 Tense and preoccupied

A4 An all-rounder 2 4 5 1 4 3 Very specialised

A5 Lenient marker 2 2 3 1 5 4 Strict marker

A6 Good tutorial skills 1 2 3 2 5 4 Doesn’t know how to discuss

A7 Good delivery 2 1 1 2 3 5 Talks too quietly and mumbles

A8 Makes me laugh 1 1 5 2 4 5 Rather solemn

B as A1 Clear, understandable 1 1 3 4 3 5 Difficult to follow

B as A2 Makes it interesting 1 3 2 2 3 3 Dull and boring

B as A3 Easy-going 1 4 3 1 5 5 Tense and preoccupied

B as A4 An all-rounder 2 4 4 2 3 4 Very specialised

B as A5 Lenient marker 3 2 5 2 4 4 Strict marker

B as A6 Good tutorial skills 1 2 4 3 5 5 Doesn’t know how to discuss

B as A6 Good delivery 1 1 2 2 3 5 Talks too quiet and mumbles

B as A8 Makes me laugh 1 1 4 2 5 5 Rather solemn

Ms B has been working with a photocopy of Mr A’s grid with the ratings Tipp-Exed out, and has entered the ratings that she

thinks Mr A used. Mr A’s original grid is shown first, followed by B’s grid as A.

works with the photocopy of Mr A’s grid, seeing Mr A’s elements and

constructs but not the ratings.

The next step has two different possibilities.

(7a) Either: ask each interviewee to fill out the other’s grid as s/he thinks the

other filled it out. In other words, it is Mr A’s task to try to reproduce the

ratings which appeared in Ms B’s original grid (without looking, of course!).

Ms B’s task to complete Mr A’s grid by filling in the ratings that Ms B thinks

Mr A used. Each of them has to put themselves in the other’s shoes and use the

other’s constructs as s/he thinks the other uses them, writing in the ratings

each thinks the other would have used.

(7b) Or: ask each interviewee to fill out the other’s grid, as themself. In other

words, Mr A works with Ms B’s elements and constructs, but provides the

ratings which Mr A himself would have used. Likewise, Ms B writes in her own

ratings, but using Mr A’s elements and constructs.

As you can see, the two procedures are rather different. The first is a literal

attempt at thinking as the other person thinks. How well does each person

understand the other? ‘If I understand your understanding of the topic, I

should know what you mean by each of your constructs, and how you use

them to give meaning to each of the elements. And so I should be able to

replicate the ratings that you have used.’ This can get particularly penetrating

if there are ‘self’ constructs in the grid, such as ‘Myself as I am now’ or ‘myself

as I would like to be’! How accurately can I reproduce how you think of

yourself in your own terms?

The second procedure allows each individual to provide their own ratings – but

they still have to do so with the other’s constructs. ‘If I understand your

constructs, I should be able to use them. I should have no difficulty in

providing my own ratings for those which I personally share, or am

comfortable with. I may, however, struggle to provide a personal rating for

those of your constructs which I don’t share, or which are meaningless to me.’

There is a subtle flavour of ‘can I be you?’ in the first case, as distinct from ‘what

sense can I make of you?’ in the second case. The analysis reflects this


(8) Ask each interviewee A to compare B’s attempt at being A with A’s

original grid, discussing the attempt. Then swap round, with each

interviewee B comparing A’s attempt at being B with B’s original grid.

Consider using the change grid subtraction procedure (Section 9.1.1). The

point is for the ‘owner’ to give feedback to the other on how close the ratings

were, and explore the differences. So, when it’s each person’s turn, the owner

should address the following in the other’s attempt:

. on which constructs was the other successful? Is this because the partner has

similar constructs? Any other reasons?

. on which constructs was the partner less successful? Why might this be?

A change grid (as in Section 9.1.1) can, by subtracting ratings in corresponding

cell positions in A’s original compared with B’s attempt at being A, highlight

the differences if required.

The discussion in this step will be slightly different depending on which

variant of exchange was used at step 7. In the former case, the initial question

might be ‘How successful were you in being me?’ and in the second, ‘Which of

my constructs was it uncomfortable for you to use?’

Whichever variant is used, in situations in which the two people must work

together (or, more interesting, live their lives together!), a discussion of this

kind will be very fruitful. It is particularly useful if the discussion towards the

end is turned in two directions.

. Firstly, that of feelings. Are the differences significant in the sense that they

matter to the two partners?

. And secondly, behaviour. Are there important differences with respect to

any particular elements in the grid, and what are the implications arising

from the fact that the two partners have a different orientation towards those

elements? Are the differences in orientation resolvable or not, and in either

event, what does this imply in terms of how to behave towards the elements

in question, especially if those elements are other people?

Try a quick exercise: Exercise 9.3.