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Investigation Interviews by Telephone: Q & A with Don Rabon

A webinar attendee asks some pointed questions about challenges of telephone interviews with investigation subjects

Posted by Dawn Lomer on May 23rd, 2013

Last week’s webinar on telephone interviews, part of our six-part Investigation Interviews Master Class presented by Don Rabon, was watched by almost 900 attendees and generated a lot of discussion. One attendee, Jennifer, reached out to Don after the webinar with her questions, and the result was an informative little Q & A, which I thought would be enlightening for readers of this blog.

Jennifer shared some of her own experiences as an investigator: “I very much related to many of your insights, including wherein you stated it is not recommended to allow two interviewers to interrupt each other. I actually experienced the downfalls of that in an in-person interview. Shortly after I had begun to ask open-ended questions with reasons in mind for them, the interviewee began relaxing and sharing information. At that point, with no prior notice to me, the second interviewer interrupted my open-ended questions by asking the interviewee closed ended questions way too soon and in a you’re-in-trouble-with-us (hammer style) type demeanor. The interviewee immediately shut down and asked about his rights to an attorney; we gained none of the answers I had been headed toward extracting at the interview’s start…”

Interrogation vs Interview

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“Further, the above scenario made me consider what your thoughts might be on a general hammer style investigator demeanor like that described above. Although there certainly may be situations wherein the open ended questions lead up to closed ended questions necessitating a hammer style, I do not think a consistent hammer style benefits an investigator,” she adds.

“What are your thoughts on this?” she asks. “I ask because I have noticed hammer styles wherein investigators/interviewers take the demeanor of ‘I’m the law and you must respond to my demanding questions’ during all of their contact with the public. I have further noticed this fails to build a conversational relationship, shuts down interviewees, and does not extract answers as would open ended questions followed up with closed ended questions, as you described.”

Don Rabon’s Response: The idea that the only way to gain compliance is through confrontation is, from a professional interviewing point of view, writing on the walls of a cave. As you noted, the “I am the authority figure (private or public) and therefore you must answer my questions” is demonstrative of the lowest level of power or control known as paycheck power, positional power and/or situational power.

This person (I hesitate to say interviewer) is counting upon their position to produce a positive outcome rather than their interpersonal communication capabilities. This approach is not only heavy handed, can more readily produce a false confession but also opens the door to the “regret factor” manifesting post-interview wherein the interviewee will either recant the admission or challenge the manner in which the admission was obtained. Contentious confrontation embodies the idea of judgment and passing judgment. The interviewer’s task is not to pass judgment but rather, get to the truth.

Documenting Identity

Jennifer asks: “Also, what are your thoughts on the challenges of confirming and/or documenting identity in telephonic interviews. For example: Phone number called, name and DOB, interviewee’s location during interview, and/or other…? How important is this for the sake of identity confirmation? What are your recommendations? What are the chances of an interview becoming compromised if these details aren’t documented? In other words, what’s the likelihood of an interviewee or their attorney stating in a later date hearing that they never spoke to the interviewer?”

Don Rabon’s Response: You nailed it. Documentation is the key and failure to document can result in diminishing the information gained from the telephone interview. Going deeper, should the case warrant it, phone records could support that the conversation took place. Additionally, eliciting seemingly, insignificant information from the interviewee, particularly during the phatic phase of the interview could cement the fact that the interview occurred and that the interviewee was the person in question.



Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Manager of Communications

Dawn Lomer is the Manager of Communications at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.

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