7 Habits for Highly Successful Interviews

As complex as investigative interviewing and criminal interrogations may be at times, there are habits that can be put into place to help ensure a successful outcome. Before we get into the particular habits, we should first define what a successful outcome is and what it is not.

Success in an interview or interrogation is when the person being questioned provides full and accurate detail regarding all the information they know relating to the topic under investigation. It is not getting a confession, nor is it corroborating your preconceived beliefs about what they person may know.

It does not matter if the person is a victim, witness, or suspect; if you extract from them all the information they have in their memory in full and accurate detail, there is no need to place a label on them since the information they provide will expose their involvement or lack thereof. A suspect is merely witness to their wrongdoings, and if you accomplish the goal above, the result will be a truthful and accurate confession; not your goal, but the byproduct of a highly successful interview.

Now onto the 7 habits!

  • Build and Maintain Rapport: Rapport is developing a relationship with the other person which helps both parties to understand each other's feelings or ideas and helps them communicate more effectively. If the person does not like or trust you, which are elements of rapport, it’s highly unlikely you will get full and accurate detail from them.
  • Develop a Behavioral Baseline: During the initial part of the interview when you are developing rapport with the individual, identify patterns in how they communicate, both verbally and non-verbally. Listen to their language, the words they use, emotion and affect, how they use their hands, how they position their feet, how they use the space around them, etc. This will be a gauge to help you identify areas to probe further within the interview.
  • Extract an Initial Account: Up to this point, the conversation has not been about the relevant topic. Once rapport and a baseline have been established, the goal is to ask an open question that elicits an uninterrupted narrative account from the individual regarding the topic under investigation. This can be done in a written statement by simply asking them to write down everything that happened, or through an open question of a similar nature that is ideally recorded. This provides their account of the incident without influence of distortion which can negatively impact the interview.
  • Listen & Look Attentively: Pay attention to what the person says and how they say it. Don’t worry about your next question or what your follow-up will be at this point, but really look at and listen to the person. Pay attention and be present. Compare their language and behavior with the baseline that was previously established for anything that may be different. If you have training in Investigative Statement Analysis, what do they words tell you, whether in the written statement or orally.
  • Identify Key Elements and Changes: Key elements include relevant areas such as any people and places mentioned, actions taken by them or others, times mentioned, objects mentioned or identified, conversations had, relationships, etc. Changes include any changes to the above items or how they are referenced, or changes to their language or baseline behavior as discussed above. These key elements and changes will be the focus of probing questions.
  • Expand Information: After extracting their initial account and listening and looking intently at what they said and how they said it, expand the information on the key elements and changes through probing questions. Focus on these areas and ask open questions to develop more information such as “You said a guy came in the room that you never saw before, tell me more about him.” Or, “You said you saw a car pull out of the driveway as you were pulling in, describe the car in detail.” Asking open questions about key elements such as people or objects extracts further detail from them without influencing the content. If you identify changes in behavior, emotion or language, focus on that area and ask open, probing questions to gather information and to fill in the detail. If you are trained in Cognitive Interviewing as well, you can use some of the memory enhancing strategies such as reverse recall to expand information as well.
  • Follow Up: With any interview or interrogation, follow up is crucial to establishing credibility of the statement or information. Following these 7 steps you will develop full and accurate detail from the people you interview or interrogate, but that does not mean your work is done. Follow-up on what they said and corroborate the information they provided.

Make a point to consistently follow these 7 principles until they become a habit. Doing so will set the foundation for success within your investigative interviews and criminal interrogations. Continue to take courses to develop and hone your skills but always stay true to these core concepts for successful outcomes!

Tags: interviews interrogations investigative interviweing successful interviews police interviewing interview training interrogation training


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