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how to spot a liar

“The Effective Professional Interviewer”

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

What is it that makes one interviewer more successful than another? Is it training? Do they have some special hidden talent? After analyzing more than 1000 video taped investigative interviews criminal justice researchers have been able to identify the performance characteristics that separate successful and unsuccessful interviewers. One of most telling results of these extensive studies is that only a minority of the investigators observed would qualify as “skilled interviewers.”

One observation that I have always had was that good investigators are not necessarily good interviewers and good interviewers are not always good investigators. We cannot assume being good at the one means that we are good at the other. Sadly one of the most disturbing findings of these studies was that 36% of the investigators observed would found to fall below a minimum standard of performance. The question is therefore, what are the optimum standards of behavior that are displayed by skilled and successful interviewers.

First, the skilled interviewer was well prepared before they entered the interview room. He or she knew the main elements needed to make the case. They approached the interview with the idea that the ultimate goal was the “construction of proof.”

Second, the interviewer allowed the subject make an unhurried, uninterrupted opportunity to state their position. They tested the subject’s responses fairly and without any form of pre-conceptions regarding possible credibility.

Third, the subject was allowed to present their personal view of the events in questions. This was accomplished using open ended and narrative oriented questions as opposed to short answer or leading questions.

Fourth, the successful interviewer listened to the subject. Not just listened to but, actually “heard” the subject. When the interviewer eventually asked questions they actively listened to the responses from the subject and effectively asked appropriate follow up questions to clarify mistakes, gaps, contradictions, and omissions.

The last finding was considered to be among the discoveries about the important characteristics of the successful interviewer. He or she had learned to adopt the personality behaviors and style of their subject. They also made an attempt to understand and take into consideration the circumstances of the case.

Consider your own personal interviewing style. Review past interviews that you may have recorded electronically. Listen to yourself as you interview subjects, victims and witnesses. Which successful techniques do you already use? Are there some subtle changes you can make to improve your techniques and ultimately your results?