Communication Skills and the Ability to Listen
Communication is an important skill, particularly for the investigator. Net-working depends on communication. To some, networking — a.k.a. schmoozing — is stained with negative connotations. One reason is that unscrupulous people have used it with dishonest intentions. The concept of networking has no such intent. The idea is to make contact with those who may need your services, and whose services you may need. It's a reciprocal relationship, not meant to satisfy the needs of, or provide gain for, one person.
Communication also helps the investigator in interviewing and interrogation. Therefore, learning this skill is a necessity. Yet, it's not about the ability to talk about anything at any time. It's about the ability to listen.
Communication skills are the latch on the investigator's tool kit. They open the kit so that everything inside can be utilized. Spend time learning to communicate, especially if your skills are below par. Some suggestions follow:
Look for the good in everyone; become genuinely interested in people
Give sincere praise, but don't make something up; be honest
Use names — but don't overdo it
Don't argue; be flexible and willing to consider another point of view
Ask questions — but don't accuse, don't condemn, and don't criticize
Set up appropriate boundaries and respect the boundaries of others
When you are wrong, admit it immediately; don't grovel, but make any appropriate amends
Be willing to forgive when you've been wronged; holding a grudge hurts you more than anyone else
Do more listening than talking; encourage the other person to talk about himself
Don't talk behind anyone's back; once something's out of your mouth you lose control of it, so only say what you'd want others to know you've said
You may think there's nothing on this list that you don't know. The question is whether you act on what you know. Most people would like to behave honorably with others, but they don't always remember to do so. Place these principles where you'll see them — on your wall, your mirror, or in your car to remind you. Add your own principles and read the list daily. It will make a difference.
Even if you don't believe that you get back what you give, remember that relationships are vital to the investigator's success. You need people. If you cultivate relationships, people will tell you a lot. If you're abusive and surly, if you bark orders or ignore people, they won't be inclined to help. Smile and speak respectfully; it will make the job of collecting information much more productive.
Many people don't listen; they hear parts of what's said and then wait for opportunities to break into the speaker's conversation with responses they've formed while pretending to listen. The investigator has a particularly difficult time avoiding this trap. The answer? Have questions at the ready. Keep a pad in front of you to not only remind you of questions you've prepared, but to allow for jotting down new ones as the subject speaks. Be careful of losing consistent eye contact, however.
Listen to what's being said. Don't plan what you'll say next, don't point out discrepancies, and don't interrupt with questions. Law enforcement investigators who are trained in advanced interview/interrogation skills are taught to let the subject run through her entire testimony without interruption. Afterward, she's asked to go through it again — as many times as is necessary for the investigator to really hear what's being said.
Active listening is an effective tool for investigators. It's the practice of listening so closely that you're able to put what's been said into your own words and repeat it back to the speaker. One advantage is that if you've misunderstood or the speaker has misspoken, it can be cleared up immediately.
Gaining skill in active listening involves awareness and practice. Practice listening to friends and family. You'll be surprised at what you hear. You may also be surprised by the response. People love to be heard; it makes them feel as if they matter. Proficiency in listening may help not only your career, but your relationships as well.
The second advantage is crucial when interviewing victims: Active listening allows a victim to speak about what has happened to him and, more importantly, to know that he's been heard. Once again, you're not born with the ability to listen actively. You can learn, and if you already do something like it, you can improve. If you don't like the term, call it something else, but use it — it works.
To ensure that you don't miss anything during interrogation or inter-view, record the conversation, listen to it, and then listen again. It's amazing how, after listening until you think you can recite everything in your sleep, something important jumps out at you.