Introduction to Workplace Investigation Interviewing Techniques
Part I — Physical Setting: The Importance of “Setting the Scene”
Participating in an interview about workplace misconduct of your peer – or even someone higher in the food chain than you – is often scary for employees. It is common for a witness to feel uneasy about the process. They undoubtedly feel apprehensive about speaking with you. It is your job to set them at ease. How? Prepare, before you even start the interview. An interview is most productive if you are able to make your interviewee feel comfortable. The following considerations can help you to cultivate a meeting space that encourages your witness to relax and participate in the process:
- Site: The location of your interview is an important element to consider. Interviews often take place on-site at the workplace. On-site meeting rooms should be private and interruption-free, consistent with the confidential nature of the investigation. Scheduling an interview in the glass conference room, or in the paper-thin walled room right next to the complainant or respondent, is sure to inhibit the witness’ participation. At times, you may want to consider using an off-site space in the case that an on-site interview may inhibit or disrupt the regular flow of the workplace. When selecting an off-site location, avoid public spaces such as coffee shops or restaurants. Instead, consider renting a meeting space or a conference room.
- Space: The meeting space where you conduct your interview should meet the needs of both the investigator and the interviewee. The meeting space should be roomy enough to accommodate both you and the witness comfortably. Avoid rooms that are too small, which can feel claustrophobic. Conversely, rooms that are too spacious make it difficult to build rapport with the witness. The ideal room is compact enough to create an atmosphere of intimacy and confidence, but large enough to keep the interviewee from feeling uncomfortable.
- Comfort: Make arrangements to ensure the interviewee is comfortable. If possible, provide the witness with a comfortable chair, making sure to position the seat at a conversational distance away from you. Do not place yourself between the witness and the door. (Note: this may be different if there are safety considerations for you, the investigator.) Positioning the witness adjacent to the nearest door allows them to leave the room at any time, whether to take a break or use the restroom. Also, avoid facing the witness toward a window, as this could be distracting. You may consider offering the witness a cup of coffee or a glass of water. Have a box of tissues handy for them to grab without asking. Lastly, ensure that the room temperature remains at a comfortable setting throughout the interview.
Setting the scene is the first step in conducting a successful interview. 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.