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1300 665 144

1300 665 144

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Expert investigator interviewing tips

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Interviewing in workplace investigations is an art. Do you know what it takes; have you got the X-factor? Apparently, it is flexibility. Dr Becky Milne, internationally renowned expert investigator, is involved in a study identifying characteristics of expert investigators and she believes the X-factor is flexibility. She provided an intimate workshop in Sydney last weektoshare her methodology in cognitive interviewing and spoke about it's transferability to workplace investigations.

PEEL attended the workshop and thought the following tips might be useful to your workplace investigations -

  • develop rapport straight up- interviewees will only talk to you if they like you. Dont use the old tactics of 'good cop, bad cop'. Make your goal to deal with respect and humanity.
  • ask only a few questions - the interview is about the interviewee and obtaining their story/evidence. The less the investigator intervenes the more chance you have of getting complete and accurate evidence. As a general rule the ratio should be 80:20 talk time (ie interviewee : interviewer).So the key for you is the less questions you ask,the more successful investigator you are.
  • get free flowing communication - initially allow the interviewee the opportunity to tell their story without interruption. Interruptions train the interviewee to give shorter responses which result in you obtaining less information.
  • ask a few good open questions - this will increase the quantity of information you receive.
  • look at the bigger picture, particularly in bullying investigations. Consider all things relevant to the 'story'. This will allow for consideration of risk management and systematic recommendations that will change the environment to prevent a recurrence of the incident.
  • dont approach your evidence analysis as the majority rules - look deeper and consider alliances and relationships. A lot of similar evidence may mean people have been talking and the evidence is contaminated.

Given that bullying complaints generally relate to a series of incidences, it makes specific information difficult to obtain as the incidences often merge into each other in the complainants mind. Often specific detail can only be recalled by the complainant if an incident was unique or different for some reason. The best approach to obtain information in this sea of broad statements is to -

  1. ask the complainant to give free flowing communication about the allegations
  2. ask for specific detail about the first and last incident
  3. ask for specific detail about unique examples.

This a different approach to taking the complainant through the examples of bullying chronologically as we often do. Becky Milne also emphasised carefully considering the physical characteristics of the interview in order to tap into the deep memory of the interviewee by facilitating their quiet and focussed attention. That is -

  • find a seperate and neutral space.
  • eliminate distractions - either sound or visually. An investigator should not be wearing loud clothes or engage non verbal behaviour that is distracting eg constantly checking their mobile phone/clock.
  • plan for everything eg if you expect the interview to be long, plan for breaks and ensure there is water/refreshments available. Tissues might alsobe necessary.
  • provide paper and pen so the interviewee can draw a diagram if necessary.
  • set the chairs in a physical location of clock hands at 1.50pm/am (ie 10 to 2), not too far away from each other but not too close. This is a co-operative seating plan.

Above all dont approach the interview with confirmation bias. That is asking questions to get information around your hypothesis of what occurred. Be on guard as this may be subliminal !