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linguistic analysis

Avoiding Critical Issue Overload

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

You finally have your subject in the interview room. You’ve built a substantial case against your subject and you’re sure there’s no way he or she can deny the overwhelming information you compiled against them. When the time is right you “unload” on the subject. You give them “both barrels” and then you stand back waiting for your subject to crumble under the sheer wait of the proof of your case. After a short pause your subject simply tells you you’re wrong and says “No.” So what happened? You had a great interrogation dialogue all set up. Simple. It was a case of “critical issue overload.” You pushed too much information on your subject all at once and forced your subject to reject the entire argument of proof thereby disabling your interview.

First, your subject was heavily under stress to begin with. Now you have forced your subject into making a single critical decision with what appears to them to be of totally overwhelming proportions. To him or her it is the most expedient way to escape from the pressure that the reality they’ve just been forced to confront.

Second, you set yourself up to have your interview argument to be shut down with a single simple answer – No. Your subject saw that you gave them a simple “out” and they took it leaving your argument hanging and unresolved.

Avoid “critical issue overload” techniques in the interview room. Spread out your case information by addressing smaller more manageable arguments. This keeps your subject from feeling mentally and emotionally overwhelmed with the reality of the facts they may be facing. String out your case arguments addressing only one issue at a time. Now your subject is forced to deal with each issue one at a time creating a training effect. Even though they have just dealt with one issue, there’s the next coming right behind the first. You are also more likely to get a toehold on your subject’s resistance by getting acceptance on a few issues. Once you win one or two points, it much easier to argue subsequent proof and avoid one mass rejection of your entire case.

The “Negative” Interview

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

Many of us as interviewers have encountered the occasional subject who will not respond to any of our efforts to conduct some semblance of an interview. We may not able to get them to provide some form of alibi statement much less an opinion about what they “think” might have happened or how they may be connected. The next time you encounter this type of highly resistant, difficult subject try conducting one or more of three “negative” interview approaches – the “never”, “definitely” or the “they’re wrong” statements.

The “never” interview consists of asking questions about general case information and having the subject absolutely deny the information. For example, he “never” dated the victim, was “never” in her car, “never ever” been in possession of her checkbook or other personal item, “never” saw the computer printout, etc. In this interview it will not be necessary for the interviewer to initially possess all the information or details about which he or she is asking and we definitely do not want to give away any crucial evidence at the risk of contaminating our subject. Once we have an “absolute” denial we can conduct some investigative follow-up regarding the subject responses to determine that he or she was deceptive.

The “definitely” interview is used when the subject provides some form of statement but shows no sign of acknowledging contradictory evidence. In this case we work with the subject asking specific questions of him or her that provides them the opportunity to provide “definite” proof of their statement. The more they provide what they consider specific details of their “proof” the more investigative leads we are able to generate to either support or disprove our subject’s statement.

The “they’re wrong” interview presents the subject with general information that has been provided by friends, witnesses, or even fellow subjects. Once again we are careful not to contaminate the subject’s behavior and knowledge by feeding them specific case information. We want to be sure that the subject’s knowledge of facts originates from their intimate contact with and participation in the event and not from our dialogue. In the “they’re wrong” statement, the subject is permitted to address the statements that appear to contradict those that they themselves have made and articulate why those people are wrong – either the other people lied, don’t like them, weren’t there, etc. This approach will create an apparent all “those people” versus “me” and all their statements, although they are consistent and correspond with the majority of the evidence is wrong.

The objective of the “negative” interview is to lock or subject into their statements so tightly that those very statements effectively condemn them as being deceptive. This approach still permits us to conduct the more effective narrative-based interview that has been shown to be less likely to elicit false statements. We are not attempting to “bluff” the subject nor impress them with the information we have in hand. All I need to do as the investigator is to “impeach” the absolute statements of the subject and the subject has provided me the tools I need to accomplish that goal. How many times have we heard or been told that an attorney during deposition, direct or even cross-examination should never ask a question for which he or she doesn’t already know the answer. We are asking the subject questions that for the most part we already know most of the answers. We are giving the subject the opportunity to be truthful or deceptive. We want to see which choice they make. If it is the wrong choice, we will be sure his or her words will come back to haunt them.