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Interview Techniques

Over Prepared Interviews

by Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”

There is nothing unusual at all about any investigative interviewer preparing extensively for an upcoming interview. There is really no situation that I can think of that I had too much information on hand when I went into the room. The danger may be however that we can become too obsessed with the preparation at the expense of being spontaneous and flexible when we finally get into the room.   Certainly “turning unknowns into knowns”  is a good strategy for reducing our tension as the interviewer and we often mentally practice what we are going to say and anticipate any possible surprises and build backup plans to deal with such surprises.  Over preparation however can paralyze the interview and information recovery.

Are your “scripting” your interviews?  One telltale sign of over preparation is literally scripting the interview questions.  In some cases writing out the questions in advance and even sequencing the questions in the order they may be asked.  The danger here is that the interviewer becomes so “fixated” on completing the list of questions that they fail to follow up on incomplete answers or on responses that warrant further attention be the interviewer. Listening to these interviews on tape makes you think the interviewer is merely in a conversation with himself, never hearing the subject.

Over preparation obsession is frequently manifests itself as pre-conception thinking by the interviewer.  A common and easily recognized hallmark of an interviewer bearing pre-conceptions is an overwhelming presence of leading questions and especially the use of short answer questions. If the casual observer where to map the direction of logic of the interviewers discourse he would find that questions are focused toward only one possible conclusion.  Movement of the dialogue to a direction contrary to the pre-conceived charted course is met with resistance and the conversation directed back to the only acceptable conversation thread. This will be obvious despite that fact that often the subject’s responses clearly indicate the dialogue should follow the different track.

Finally, the obsessively over prepared interviewer will frequently find themselves extremely frustrated and impatient with their interview.  He or she will invariably regard their interview subject as belligerent, antagonistic and uncooperative in the face of what the interviewer considers to be overwhelming evidence and logical proof. The frequent result is an interview that degrades into verbal hostilities with marginal or no real productive results.  The interviewer frequently misses opportunities to elicit available information from their subjects due to the interviewer obvious growing frustration.

It is certainly prudent for any investigative interviewer to prepare for all their interviews.  Dispensing with such preparation altogether and forging ahead on a wing and a prayer would be the devil’s folly.  The best advice is to recognize that there is a delicate balance between being prepared and manically trying to prepare for every possible scenario or worse, only one possible scenario.  Preparation is essential but not at the expense of being able to respond to the numerous moments that will arise during the interview that will require you to be flexible to a change in course and react spontaneously to your subject and their behaviors.

Try a Little P.A.S. in Your Interview

by Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”

We’ve discussed in class and in a past issue the four step process of Practical Kinesic Interview & Interrogation® – orientation, narration, cross examination and resolution. After the subject has presented their statement or alibi during the “narration” phase, the interviewer then takes the opportunity to address any incomplete answers or contradictions in the subject’s statement as well as obvious conflict between the statement and forensic details.  The “cross-examination” technique chosen is the one that most closely matches the subject’s personality type – emotion, sensory, logic or ego dominant.   One way to organize you thoughts for this cross-examination phase is to use a very common and very effective sales formula called P.A.S. or Problem – Agitate – Solve.  Dan Kennedy who is one of the country’s top sales professionals says that this technique “may the most reliable sales formula ever invented.”  Isn’t the interviewer doing a little selling?

The first step is to illustrate in some detail to the subject the “problem” with the facts of the case and his or her statement on the contradictions found in their statement.  For example, that despite their protestations that they were not at the scene that there are witnesses, computer logs, video tapes, credit card transactions, etc. that suggest the contrary.  Highlighting these problems can focus on the victim’s statement,  implausibility of their statements, memory lapse, etc.  Articulate in detail the “problem” as you see it and why the proof supports your position.

After you have established that there is a problem in a clear and forceful manner it’s time to get the subject “agitated” about the problem.  We do this by tapping into either their emotions about the evidence, the significance of each of the pieces of detail, the logical weight of the argument that is against their position and supports yours or the what will be the most likely public perception of the arguments that support your proof.   The idea is to force the subject to realize the futility of sustaining their argument or agree with the proof that is mounting against them.

Now that you have stated the “problem”, “agitated” the subject to the point that they are mentally wringing their hands you are going to unveil the answers to his problems. This is when the subject is desparately going to be looking for a way out of this delimma that have gotten themselves into and you are the only person who has got the “solution.” At this point you can now lay out the options the subject has available and the possible consequences and alternatives to each.  Isolate the “good” and “bad” choices that he or she has available to them and the possible outcomes for each. Be prepared to listen and to and watch your subject for verbal and nonverbal cues that indicate that an admission or confession will be imminent.

More often than not our perceptions of the difficulties and complexities of the interrogation process are often larger in our minds than they are in reality.  Sometimes a simple approach is all you need and the proven technique of “Problem – Agitate -Solve” or P.A.S. is all your need to create the foundation of a successful interrogation.