Article Categories

lying

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.

Intuitive versus Analytical Diagnosis of Credibility

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

Historically human beings are very bad at spotting deception failing on average 50% or more the time to identify lies. Unfortunately, investigative interviewers and  professionals in many other disciplines also have the same poor performance based on numerous research studies.  One of the major contributing factors is that most of us make our assessments about whether a person is being truthful or deceptive based on our “gut feelings” and other undefined symptoms.  Such intuitive assessments have always proven themselves to be inconsistent and unreliable.  When an investigative interviewer focuses their analysis on more reliable documented verbal and nonverbal cues, their accuracy dramatically improves.

An “intuitive” analysis of a subject frequently is characterized by comments such as “I think he’s lying” or “I know he’s hiding something.”   When you ask the observer what specific behaviors make them believe the person is deceptive you often get answers such as “I can tell,” “You just know” and they fail to identify any reliable cues. When they do cite verbal or nonverbal cues those that are mentioned as deception markers are more often than not are just signs of stress or incriminating stress cues and fail to isolate lies.

A reliable analytical diagnosis of behavior focuses on specific questions or issues and clearly defined behavior responses by the subject.  These analyses are characterized by comments including terms such as “clusters”, “timing”, “consistent”, “change” and “constant.”  In these cases the interviewer – observer can be very specific about a subject’s deception and can name the particular behaviors. The behaviors mentioned will be cues identified as “denial”, “aversion”, “negation”, “contradiction”, “unclear thought line” or “performance.”

The danger of making an “intuitive” diagnosis is that they are subject to “pre-conceptions” by the interviewer that more often than not results in gross misdiagnosis.  As we’ve discussed in the past the existence of pre-conception on behalf of the interviewer is also most often results in contamination of the interview further compounding the error of the credibility assessment.   The end result of such a flawed analysis can be wasted time, investigative effort and resources and at worst a case subject to crushing attacks that can be made in defense of the subject in trial and disciplinary proceedings.  An analytical diagnosis requires a lot more effort by the interviewer.  The observer will force themselves to resist making blanket statements about their subject’s lack of honesty without specific behaviors they have identified to support their conclusions.  Cases made with such extensive micro-analysis typically contain better quality information and often other forensic sources that provide confirmation of the subject’s remarks.  These cases are also more likely to survive any challenge of prejudice, flawed analysis, contamination and some cases even false confession.  On what basis are you deciding the subject is being deceptive – your ‘gut feelings’ or reliable behavioral cues that you can cite on a point-to-point basis? Don’t just tell me your subject is lying – tell me what he or she is lying about and the specific behaviors that have led you to that conclusion.