Introduction to Workplace Investigation Interviewing Techniques
Part II — First Impressions Matter
By Matt Rose
As the saying goes, you only get one chance – and only a few seconds – to make a first impression. When it comes to conducting investigative interviews, first impressions often make the difference between effective and ineffective interviews. If you get this wrong, your interview may be doomed even before you ask a single question. Follow these tips to get it right:
- Be on time: Do not be late. Witnesses have one thing in common – they do not want to be there! They may dread the thought of discussing difficult topics; they may be fearful of talking about their colleagues or superiors; they may be uninterested in the investigation; they may be the complainant concerned about retaliation and the process; or, they may be the subject of the investigation who is fearing the repercussions of the process and outcome. Being late will only exacerbate those fears, resulting in the witness being less willing to openly share crucial information. As a simple rule of thumb, arrive at the interview location five to 10 minutes before the scheduled meeting time to ensure you greet the interviewee when they arrive. This will allow you to ensure the room is set up properly, and for you to set up your working materials.
- Be appropriately dressed: Dress to your audience. For many investigators, the “go to” attire for an interview is a business suit. Depending on the type of interview, that could be a mistake. A business suit would be appropriate to wear when interviewing law enforcement agents, for example, since those employees are typically accustomed to that attire and to formal settings, generally. On the other hand, interviewing those who are accustomed to much less formality may be less candid with the “blue suit” sitting across from them. Wearing a formal suit as an investigator could make the interview feel more serious, formal and daunting than it needs to be. With that in mind, an investigator should know his or her audience. Wear something that will maximize rapport. Dressing appropriately depends on the situation, the industry, the audience and the type of investigation.
- Be organized: Be ready and willing to start the interview at the scheduled meeting time. Most interviewees expect the investigator to be professional, to take charge of the interview, and to dictate the pace. A good way to lose credibility with an interviewee is to be disorganized and flustered. Even worse, an interviewee who distrusts the professionalism of the investigator will likely be less willing to openly and freely share information. As an investigator, take steps to avoid this potential problem as soon as you arrive in the interview room. For example, plug your computer into a power source, keep your written notes tidy, have the requisite amount of pre-printed copies of documentation you need to share, have your interview questions outlined and available, and ensure that the interview can start as soon as the interviewee sits down. Remember, as the investigator, you need to be prepared and ready even before the questioning begins.
- Find A Way To Develop Rapport. Investigators must find the delicate balance of developing rapport by engaging in small talk and finding commonality, yet without seeming too cozy to the witness. Diving directly into the interview will likely result in less productive conversations. Consider things you can discuss that are neutral. “I see you went to X University. My neighbor went there. How was your experience?” “What was your commute like today? I sailed in without any problem.” Think about other safe and neutral topics to set the witness at ease.
Follow these tips and you are sure to make a good first impression that will help you to elicit the information you need for your 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
Matt Rose is an Associate Attorney with Van Dermyden Maddux Law Corporation. His 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.