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Interviewing: My Subject Won’t Talk

Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”

A frequent frustration many interviewers face is the inability to get the subject to talk to them. Obviously in any investigation if the person we’re talking with is the subject of that investigation he or she would be better advised not to talk to us anyway. But how do we not only get the subject to talk to us but also the uncooperative victim or witness?


We can certainly lay a lot of blame at the feet of the uncooperative person but that will get us no closer to the critical information that he or she has chosen to withhold.   Our objective is to find the truth and blaming the subject and giving up our pursuit of the truth is not an acceptable option.  Half of the responsibility for the failure of a subject to talk lies with the interviewer. We can’t expect a person to talk to us merely because we’re the interviewer.


First, if we intend to persuade a subject to talk we’ve got to do a better job of demonstrating to them that they are a critical element in the investigation.  To do this we have to present the evidence of the  ‘problem’ in a form that grabs their intellectual attention. That means for each personality type (emotion, sensory, logic and ego dominant) we have a different ‘problem presentation.’ We present the problem one small piece at a time slowly demonstrating the emotion dominant’s connection to the case while for the sensory type we’re going to have to work in a more tangible form by pointing out specific victim or witness statements and similar snippets of evidence.  For the logic dominant we’re going to have to present the threads of argument that demonstrate ‘why’ the subject is linked to the problem while the ego dominant will respond when they are made to believe that everyone needs to made to understand his or her brilliance and mental prowess.


Our task at attempting to stimulate our subject to talk is not yet quite complete.  We’ve got to further agitate our subject into a taking a personal interest in their position as being a directly involved party in a problem that requires their attention.  Obviously the emotion dominant subject is going to respond to emotion- based ‘color commentary.’  The sensory dominant is further pulled into the conversation when we make them realize that the evidence they are involved cannot be denied and we’re going to keep reminding them of that.  The logic dominant will be unable to resist the weight of the proof that they are linked to the case – the logical argument is just too strong and won’t be ignored.  The ego dominant is significantly motivated to talk when they feel that they have been betrayed or used by the ungrateful and unworthy people who they believe have benefited from his efforts or are trying to destroy him because their jealous of his success.


Next time your subject seems not to want to talk, think about more than just impressing with your title or what their punishment could be for their actions.  You are more likely to get some form of response from you subject when you frame the problem in their intellectual format and agitate them to action by personalizing this issue on their level.

False Confession: Who’s Responsible?

Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”

Recently I was comparing “notes” with a social psychologist who is conducting research on cues to deception.  She has been collecting data about the lie cues taught by the numerous interview and interrogation courses and attempting to validate the reliability of those cues.  She shared with me a comment made by an instructor in one of these courses that not only did she find disturbing but that I find at least professionally if not ethically appalling.  A question was raised in class about the issue of false confessions and how they should be handled.  The instructor informed the participants that the interviewer should blame the subject for the false confession.


With the country’s legal system current focus on wrongful convictions and false confessions, how irresponsible could a professional investigator be to blame a false confession on the suspect?  The objective of the investigative interviewer should be finding the truth by accurately spotting deception and ultimately obtaining a legal and ethical admission or confession.  Such professionals should also be keenly aware of what methods and techniques could induce a highly suggestible subject to make a false confession.


One issue that immediately concerns me about the instructor’s statement is there must be some problem with the human behavior cues that are being taught in this course.  We are expected to spot a subject’s apparent deception regarding their involvement in some inappropriate or criminal act by observing and identifying specific verbal and nonverbal cues of deception. If the cues being taught are reliable discriminators of deception, then why would the interviewer not be able to spot the very same signs that would undoubtedly be generated by a subject who is falsely confessing?


The objective of any investigation is to uncover the real story. Doesn’t the fact that there has been a false confession run completely counter to that objective? The fact that the investigator has become focused on this subject as being the person responsible for the commission of the crime leads one to believe that there may in fact have been a faulty or inadequate investigative effort which would include the identification, collection and preservation of evidence and more importantly the interviews of other sources, victims and witnesses. Once again, how has the interviewer missed the cues of omission and embellishment by the victims, witnesses or informants that I assume have already been interviewed during the investigation.


A couple of months ago I wrote an article for this newsletter that was entitled ‘Pre-Conception: An Interrogation Assassin’.  My premise in that article was one of if not the most insidious states of mind that an interviewer could have any pre-conception about a persons credibility and honesty about an issue.  With an inaccurate assessment of the subject’s honesty and relying on signs of deception that have been proven to be unreliable and then proceeding without considering that their technique may increase the chances of a false confession is the path to disaster.


If the investigator is prepared to take the credit for solving a case and wants the credit for getting a confession from a subject then he or she is also are responsible for a false confession.  Blaming the subject for their false confessions is an absolutely unacceptable excuse.  Our job is to find the truth.  A false confession does not serve justice.