To Interview or Interrogate — Know the Difference

Interviews and interrogations are two very different things. Suspects are interrogated; witnesses are interviewed. Everything that follows can be applied to all types of investigations. However, because of privacy laws, there are certain things the PI may not ask during a pre-employment screening interview. These follow:

  • Age

  • Children and how many times married

  • Disability

  • Ethnicity

  • Marital status

  • Political party

  • Religion

  • Sexual orientation

Acknowledging Differences in Perception

When interviewing witnesses, remember that men and women differ in what they remember. This is a generalization, but one that has proven true for the majority. Women look at eyes in an attempt to determine an offender's intent, so they often remember the eyes and at least part of the face. Men tend to look at build and arm length and ask, “Can I take him?”

Experts have written that, contrary to popular opinion, children can be the best witnesses. As with everything else, this is a generalization. Not all children will be good witnesses any more than all women will remember eyes and faces. When properly interviewed, children can give telling aspects of most situations. Of course, age and maturity make a difference.

The most important aspect of interviewing children as witnesses is for the child's recall to be protected. Only an investigator who is trained in interviewing children should ask the child questions or show him pictures. Most experts agree that very young children shouldn't be asked specific questions but should be allowed to speak about the incident in their own time. This very sensitive area has been the subject of books, articles and seminars. Some of them follow:

  • A Guide for Interviewing Children: Essential Skills for Counselors, Police, Lawyers and Social Workers by J. Clare Wilson, and Martine Powell

  • Interviewing Children and Adolescents by James Morrison and Thomas Anders. While this is primarily a book concerning childhood disorders, it outlines the interview process in excellent detail

  • Interviewing the Children, PBS's Frontline

  • Interviewing Children as Victims, Witnesses or Suspects, by Code 4, Non-Profit Education Association. This organization offers conferences several times per year

Trained experts alone should interview children. However, this list will get you started learning about the subject for the part you'll play as an investigator.

Developing Rapport

One of the most interesting means of developing rapport is called mirroring or matching. The interviewer begins by mirroring the subject. As she makes small talk and attempts to gain the subject's trust, she slowly alters her posture until the subject is mirroring her. It's important to remain subtle so that you don't appear to be mimicking or mocking the subject, however.

An example of mirroring would be something like this: If the subject sits with his arms crossed, the interviewer crosses her arms. At the same time, she listens to the words the subject uses and uses them back to him, matching his pitch, speech rate, and volume. As she becomes successful in opening up the subject, she begins to open her arms and the subject will usually follow. Now the interviewer is in charge. If she wants more intimacy, she moves forward in her seat. The subject will usually follow suit. Now she has him. First, she gets his body in sync with her, then his mind follows, and he becomes less guarded and more communicative.

The key to mirroring is to begin wherever the subject may be, then slowly bring her to your position. If you know what to look for, you'll see people subconsciously mirroring each other everywhere — people in deep conversation, lovers and friends mirroring each other when they're in agreement, and people not mirroring each other when they're not in agreement.

The basis for this interviewing technique is neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Some critics take issue with the use of NLP as a therapeutic treatment technique, but others, psychologists and psychiatrists alike, use it in their practices. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies, federal and local, use this technique or something based on it. If you're interested, visit the NLP Information Center for more information. There are other ways to develop rapport. You may find that your way isn't in the literature at all. If it works for you, it works.

Kinesics or Body Language

There are many types of studies and training that purport to teach others how to read someone else by their body movements. Many are too broad to really be accurate, but some hold promise.

One problem with these body language techniques is that some people insist that certain traits automatically mean certain things — for instance, that rapid blinking means the subject is avoiding contact or is even lying. In reality, the subject may have dry eyes or a nervous tic, or her blinking may mean something else entirely. Of course, she may actually be lying or hiding something, although there's a difference between these two cases also.

However, the investigator won't know any of this until he establishes the baseline. He must determine what eye blinking means in the case of that particular individual. Don't fall prey to broad-brush techniques; the results could be disastrous. If you're interested, the following sites have more information on the subject:

Asking Questions Successfully

Never ask a question that suggests the answer. Avoid closed-ended questions, or questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no — this is the best way to halt an interview. Your questions need to be phrased in such a way that the answer is an elaboration, providing information that can lead to more questions.

Asking, “Were you at the corner of Twenty-first and Roman on the night of July 18?” will get you the answer “Yes,” and dead air. If you ask, “Why were you at the corner?” you'll get information that will often lead to other questions and more information. Closed questions stop the conversation and break any rapport you've established with the subject.

Many investigators begin with questions they already know the answers to. Questions the subject will almost certainly answer truthfully are asked first. This is along the lines of the lie detector question formatting, when a baseline of truthful answers is obtained at the outset. While the investigator doesn't have the subject hooked up to a lie detector, she can watch the subject's mannerisms and judge them against any future answers. This way, she can see how the subject's body responds when he answers a truthful question.

A Test Case

For instance, when she answers simple questions she only has to recall, not create or make up, the subject may look up and to the right. Most people look up when answering with recall or creation of the answer, but they don't all look in the same direction. Perhaps your subject looks up and to the right when she tells you that the color of her house is white. She's recalling this, and it's (probably) a truthful statement. Ask a string of these to verify that looking up and to the right is her response to recall questions.

Next, ask a string of questions to which he must create answers: If you were to change the color of your house or apartment, what color would it be? The subject may look up and to the left or slightly to the middle when answering this question. Once again, ask more questions to verify that looking up and left is his habit when he creates answers. Now you can begin to ask questions connected to the case, having established that up and right is recall for this subject, and up and left is creation or making up (or lying).

There's a lot of research behind this technique, but it won't prove anything in court. It will, however, give you an idea of how truthful this subject is in response to your questions. This technique is very different from socalled body language, where an authority insists that looking to the right has a set meaning for every person. This is simply not true. You must establish what looking to the right means for that particular subject. It's been established that there is an unconscious link between the nervous system and communication (the body can communicate what the mind is thinking), yet this isn't a one-size-fits-all kind of communication. At any rate, this type of interviewing isn't an easy discipline and can be easily misused.

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