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Constant: What is it really? Why the Interrogator Should Care

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

Lately I’ve noticed that interviewers may be misdiagnosing their subjects because of the way they are identifying their subject’s “constant” or baseline of behavior.  Every successful kinesic interviewer knows that they will never be able to accurately identify issues that create significant stress for their subjects nor will they be able to isolate deceptive responses without accurately diagnosing the changes caused by deception if they haven’t established the subject’s baseline.  There is good news and bad news about establishing your subject’s “constant” of behavior.

Not intending to be a pessimist, I’d like to start with the bad news. A person’s overall behavior at any time is in reality composed of at least three factors.  Foremost is their dominant personality.  Just being flamboyant, aggressive, passive, egotistical or the demonstration of other such qualities is not the constant. It’s their well entrenched personality.   The second element is their life’s historical perspective – the prism through which the view the world around them. In some cases those major events have caused emotional or even mental disorders.  These behaviors initiated through triggering events and causes fixed action responses from you subject.  More about those elements in future article.  These are not the behaviors which I need to include in my “constant” assessment and can lead to misinterpretation of credibility.

The third element is your subject’s communication style.  Are they generally verbal or quiet?  How would you define the voice quality in terms of rate, pitch and volume? Do they have a lot of facial expression or do they have minimal amount of facial responses. Are their hand, arm and leg behaviors subdued or would you describe them as being quite gesticulative?  This is the good news.  You don’t have to conduct an in-depth analysis. Just consciously make these observations and make a mental note. When you address critical issues do you spot the significant change from that baseline?  If you are going to get signs of deception, they will typically be consistently located within these changes.

You don’t need to diagnose your subject’s baseline in depth but a quick calibration of your observations to the subject’s current “zero” level.  Over analysis can cause misdiagnosis and stress and deception paralysis.

Interrogation: Letting the Game Come to You

Recently I was working on a couple of interrogation tapes that some agencies ask me to review and soon after presented two of my Level 3 & 4 classes.  On the fourth day of this class, students get the opportunity to participate in live interviews with volunteer subjects from a nearby correctional facility.  In both instances, I was struck by the fact that the interviewers felt the need to “drive” the interview or interrogation.  In each case the goal of the interviewer was to find the truth but during their big push I noticed the interviewers were missing some subtle but yet extremely important responses by their subjects.  As interviewers we need to learn how to just “steer” an interview and “let the game come to us.”

With the initiation of the narration phase of any interview I have a set of goals I hope to achieve. First, I want to elicit a full and complete uninterrupted statement from my subject so that I can a.) identify if the individual is evading, withholding, omitting, altering, or overlooking critical information that I need for my investigation and b.) if they are evading, withholding or altering information is it with the deliberate intent to mislead me. If I assume a “driving” type of approach I often push the subject away from or race past issues that may be critical to my analysis and ultimately my case. Think of this like driving at night – we can “over drive” our headlights.  We’ll have little or no time to react to any road changes or hazards that we illuminate with our headlights because we plowing through the darkness full speed ahead.  By slowing down even just a little in the room I can allow a subject’s reactions and responses to develop a little more fully.  Now as the interviewer I can “steer” the interview into this areas and thereby giving me more time and as well many more opportunities to react to my subject and the issues that are obviously significant to them.

No one likes being “driven” into what they may perceive is a emotionally or mentally threatening situation.  Any one of us would immediately start to resist in at least a passive if not aggressive form.  Our fight or flight responses have been automatically triggered by the feeling we may be heading for a trap. In two different interviews in two different advanced classes, I spotted the same “driving” technique being used by students on their inmate volunteers.  I’m sure that with their new skills my students certainly wanted to unleash all their newly acknowledge on the poor unsuspecting inmate but I could them missing some key issues. Doing something I rarely do, I wrote a note to each interviewer basically telling them to slow down, allow the subject time to develop their responses and notice their reactions. In other words, “let the game come to you.”  In both cases,  there was an immediately significant increase in the subjects’ reactions as well as the quantity and quality of information – both spoken and unspoken.

We don’t need to “drive” our subjects during the interview – just “steer.” If we need to get a full and complete narrative from our subject and then fairly test the accuracy of our subject’s statements, then we are going to have to learn to “let the game come to us.”