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Structure crucial in non-accusatory interviewing


January 13, 2014
By Gord and Wayne

by Gord MacKinnon and Wayne Vanderlaan

– Benjamin Franklin

Franklin’s quotation can apply to almost anything we do that involves achieving a desired outcome. In investigative interviewing, which is really just a ‘conversation with a purpose and consequence,’ failing to properly plan just what your goal is can often lead to less than desirable results.

An investigative interviewer’s main goal is to gain truthful information from the person they are interviewing. Contrary to popular assumptions, it is not just about obtaining a confession or appropriating blame.

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While It is true that a by-product of the interview may be a confession, this should flow naturally out of a properly planned and executed interview, structured in such a way that the subject will respond with some form of the truth.

Interviews should be planned so that they have a beginning, a middle and an end; all are important in their own right, with specific goals linked to each step.

The beginning starts with an interview plan. The first consideration is to decide who will do the interview, where it will be done, the goal and how the main topic will be introduced after dispensing with introductory formalities. The plan should be a guide only, not something that must be strictly adhered to. The interview may naturally flows in a way that is contrary to the plan but still achieves the goal. The plan should also address the points to be covered at each interview step.

The “middle” is really the “meat” of the interview and should answer questions such as:

  • What key points do I need to cover?
  • How do I introduce them?
  • What might be some responses to the questions?
  • What do I do if the subject balks at a question or a line of questioning?

This is where the main topic of the interview is discussed and developed and should be where most of the information you seek is obtained.

Once we reach this middle, it’s crucial that an interviewer listen intently, using both their ears and eyes. Listening is a vital skill for any competent interviewer and one which too few people concentrate on when conducting an interview. Many times, interviewers focus too much on asking their questions rather than listening to the answers. Also, knowing how to manage silence and pauses is very important.

The end is the point at which you have evaluated many of the subject’s answers and decided whether to pursue further questioning by using tactics and themes to try bringing them to a “moment of truth”. Understandably, the end could go on for some time and ultimately other tactics and themes may come into play.

Throughout the interview, it is important to know the difference between what we call “good, bad and ugly” interview questions; the same terminology applies to your subject’s answers. Learning and understanding the words and phrases used by deceptive and truthful subjects is one of the keys to becoming a successful interviewer.

Interviewing is a learned skill and, like any learned technique, there is usually a formula or set of rules to be followed. If they are applied then the chances of a successful interview increase considerably.

We will be presenting courses on investigative interviewing and detecting and dealing with deception April 29 and 30 at the . We will be addressing and developing all of the steps associated to investigative interviewing and providing insight into ideas and techniques that will make anyone a better interviewer and, as a result, a better investigator.

We will spend time going over the ‘formula’ that we use in the Non-Accusatory Interview Technique, which can be used both in law enforcement and the private sector by anyone tasked with obtaining accurate truthful information from other people.

Like many so-called “simple” things, investigative interviewing only becomes simple when explained. Many people call this an A-ha! moment.


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