Introduction to Workplace Investigation Interviewing Techniques
Part V — It’s All in the Details
Although an investigative interview is less formal than a deposition or interrogation, it is important to remember that we are still on a fact-finding mission despite the interview’s more conversational nature. Details such as identifiers, dates, times and places are not always important in our daily exchanges with others. In workplace investigations, however, such details are often critical. Practice being an active listener by looking for opportunities where you can use the following questions to help a witness clarify or provide additional details about their statements.
Consider the following statements:
“We thought his conduct was really awful.”
- Who? It is common for witnesses to make general statements like those above. A clarifying question here – “Who, specifically, has said this?” – will allow you to hone in on potential witnesses, assess credibility, and determine how widespread the effects of a statement may reach.
- What? In the examples above, an appropriate follow up question would be, “What specifically have others said?” Clarifying the descriptor will allow you to obtain more accurate information about the topic and weigh credibility across witnesses.
- When? Dates are almost always important to an investigation. Remember to ask “when” something was said, “when” something happened, and “when” the witness learned of the fact or allegation. Obtaining dates, even if only generally, i.e. “last Spring” or “late August 2015,” will allow you to construct a more accurate timeline of events.
- Where? Questioning a witness about locations, either geographic or pertaining to body parts, can also help you determine with greater specificity what may have occurred. Considering locations can help jog a witness’ memory and lead to more accurate timelines.
- Why? Asking a witness their opinion on a matter helps the investigator better understand motives. The question, “Why do you think that?” encourages the witnesses to share their perspectives on the motives behind an action or statement.
- How? Finally, “how” is useful when a witness makes a statement that requires clarification. “How do you know that?” or “How did that happen?” are questions that encourage the witness, in his or her own words, to provide additional details and context.
Using the who, what, when, where, why, and how method of questioning will help you get the details you need to conduct a thorough investigation. Be sure to read the other articles in this series:
- Part I — Physical Setting: The Importance of “Setting the Scene”
- Part II — First Impressions Matter
- Part III — Admonitions: Getting It All Out There in the Most Effective Way
- Part IV — The Most Effective Question Types
- Part V — It’s All in the Details
- Part VI — Do Not Forget Your Closing Questions
Lindsay Ingham is an Associate Attorney with Van Dermyden Maddux Law Corporation. Her practice focuses on conducting workplace and Title IX campus investigations.
The foregoing is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice, nor should be construed as such.