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Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies


December 6, 2013
By Wayne Vanderlaan

823 words – MR

Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies

by Wayne Vanderlaan

– Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, Nov. 5, 2013.

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As the Rob Ford saga continues to be reported daily by the media and increasingly, late night talk show hosts, some of his past comments have been closely examined in light of his recent admission to having smoked crack cocaine. The above quote was made at a news conference where Ford made his first admission to having used the drug after months of denials.

Ford makes a good point in saying that he wasn’t asked the correct questions because, in May 2013, he was asked questions similar to “Are you a drug addict?” and “Do you smoke crack cocaine?” His reply:”I crack cocaine, nor of crack cocaine.”

Note the fact that he said “I do not use” as opposed to “I did not use” and goes on to deny being a crack addict. If he has only smoked crack on one occasion, then both of these statements are truthful on their face. They also answer the questions put to him and allow him to claim, as he did on Nov. 5, that the problem wasn’t with his answers but with the questions.

Strictly speaking he was lying by not being entirely candid in his answers. However, the reason Ford says he wasn’t lying is that he answered the questions put to him and his answers did not contain any untrue words. This is not an uncommon tactic when a politician answers media questions and is often used by people who are trying to deceive.

In the investigative world, formulating and asking proper questions is the key to getting accurate information from people in a timely and reliable manner. The way in which a question is structured can have a profound impact on the information received from an interview subject. It can also have a significant impact on the relationship between the interviewer and subject. Questions need to be structured in such a way as to build the relationship and make providing information a comfortable experience for both parties.

The importance of formulating questions cannot be over emphasized. “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it,” Einstein observed, “I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

Planning and preparing for an interview, knowing as much about your subject and offence as possible – and about your own strengths and weaknesses – all factor into formulating the questions that you will ask. You also have to consider communication issues, environmental factors and anything else that might impact the interaction between you and your subject.

In the book, , <1> the authors emphasized this interaction as being key to getting information:

Another key point to remember is that question formulation is a dynamic process during an interview. The subject’s answer often suggests that a new line of questioning be followed, or that clarification be sought if they start to be evasive or deceitful. A good interviewer needs to listen to the answer, analyse it, then compose appropriate follow up questions and present them in an acceptable manner to the subject.

In the Ford example, several well formulated follow up questions would have gone a long way to exposing the truth when the scandal first broke in May 2013.

The good news is that, with experience and proper training, questioning a subject becomes second nature to a good investigator – but it is a learned skill that must be developed and practised in order to be effective.

Gord MacKinnon and I will present courses April 29 and 30 at the Blue Line Expo designed to help current and aspiring investigators learn some of the skills discussed in this article. The courses are open to police and civilian investigators and anyone else interested in getting reliable, truthful and complete information from people in a timely and non-accusatory manner.

Addendum

  1. /M. Neil Browne, Stuart M., 2007, Pearson Education Inc.