Depending on your profession, you may conduct investigation interviews several times a week or several times a year. It makes sense that those who do them more often are likely to be better at interviewing suspects and witnesses in an investigation. But while practice and experience are important, some interviewers are just naturally better than others. Whether or not you are a natural, there are ways you can improve your interviewing skills.
At the ACFE Canadian Fraud Conference in Toronto, I interviewed interrogation expert and author Don Rabon about the qualities of a good interviewer. As the former Deputy Director of the North Carolina Justice Academy, and an instructor to international criminal justice personnel as well as NATO counterintelligence, Rabon has more than 33 years of experience in investigations.
Qualities of a Good Interviewer
Rabon stresses good people skills as top priority for interviewers. “Someone with a balanced view, who can talk to people,” he adds. “Not Polyanna-ish, but not skeptical. Someone with an open mind.”
In his book, Interviewing and Interrogation, Rabon and his co-author Tanya Chapman list the three skills required for interviewing as the ability to elicit a response, detect deception and gain compliance, all traits of a person with good people skills.
- Can you cause someone to talk to you on a consistent basis?
- Once the individual begins to talk, can you determine when they are truthful and when they deviate from the truth?
- If there is deception, can you change the deceiver into a truth-teller?
3 D’s of Deception
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- Deny wrongdoing
- Divert the interviewer to another topic
- Develop a theme
He played a video clip of a seasoned criminal explaining how he responds to being interrogated by telling the investigator anything that will get him out of telling the truth. A good interviewer is aware of these attempts to squirm out of the questions by denying, diverting and developing.
Choosing Your Questions
“Ask open-ended, non-specific questions,” says Rabon. These are questions that begin with words such as: what, how, could and would. You can learn a lot about a subject from how they answer these questions. “What’s not there is just as important as what is.”
But beware of the cunning subject who knows as much about manipulating interviewers as you do about getting the truth out of interviewees. “Don’t let them manoeuvre you into asking them closed questions,” he warns.
Never Stop Learning
“Read as much literature as you can [on interviewing techniques],” advises Rabon. “Keep a journal of things you notice [during interviews].”
Rabon also suggests keeping a log and documenting every interview in it, including information on what went well and what didn’t. “Make each interview a learning experience,” he says.
“Like any other skill, the more we practice, the better we get.”