Interviewing is fundamental to many investigations as part of the fact finding process. The goal is to determine the truth about the situation under investigation. A good interviewer should be honest, should be able to empathize with those he is interviewing, should listen well and actively, and should maintain a professional demeanor.
It is said, “Fail to plan and plan to fail.” If a successful interview is to be carried out there should precede some careful planning. Prior to the interview create an outline of specific important questions to ensure they are addressed.
Now we can look at the different aspects of an interview and discuss some of the details pertinent to each part. First comes the greeting. It is important that the interviewer introduce himself in order to establish his professionalism and credibility. Also the interviewer should clearly give the reason for the interview to try and relieve any anxieties the interviewee may have.
Once you have introduced yourself you can begin building rapport. Rapport can be gained with an interviewee by being relaxed and using a comfortable conversational style. Also it is important to be sincere and respectful giving the interviewee the feeling that you are understanding and can be trusted.
After establishing a reasonable degree of rapport you can begin to move into the questioning phase of the interview. It is important to remember that rapport is built and maintained throughout the interview not just at the beginning. Therefore it is important to continue to be professional and somewhat relaxed during the entirety of the interview. That said, the interviewer should maintain a balance realizing the need to maintain control of the discussion and keep focused and on track.
Some tips to remember before beginning:
- take your time
- allow periods of silence where necessary
- avoid compound questions
- stay neutral, professional, and unbiased
- do not make assumptions or jump to conclusions
- do not interrupt
- questions should start out general and move to specific
- try not to use leading or loaded questions
- avoid accusatory questions or statements
- don’t argue or debate
A good strategy for the beginning of the questioning phase is to ask open ended questions and ask the interviewee to tell you what happened in their own words. This is called free narrative and allows the interviewee to openly discuss the situation without interruption. To avoid unsolicited, irrelevant responses ensure that the questions, although open-ended, are pointed and address pertinent information. Again maintain control and try to limit digressing by the interviewee. Throughout the questioning you should use good active listening skills and where appropriate give feedback in the form of paraphrasing to ensure you perceive accurately what they are saying. Also show interest with body language and short phrases like, “yes” or “go on.”
After the interviewee has related all the information they have in the free narrative segment you can follow up with direct examination. In this segment you ask more direct questions probing specifics in an attempt to clarify points of vagary in their story or maybe to get them to elaborate where more detail is needed. At this point it may be useful to have the interviewee attempt memory retrieval through what is called a different “channel.” You could ask them about what they heard or what they felt or what they smelled. These different sense cues will sometimes bring to mind something they would not have recalled without the cue. You could also ask them to recall the events in a different order or ask them to explain the events from another perspective. At this point you should also keep in mind any biases that the interviewee may have. You may want to ask a few control questions to help establish the reliability of a particular witness.
Next to ensure accuracy and that they have effectively communicated the information to you, summarize back to the interviewee what it is you have understood about what they have said. This affords another opportunity for clarification and thoroughness. Finally once you have sufficiently gone over the events and understand what the interviewee has said you may wish to cross-examine them. This of course is optional but can be used to carefully explore inconsistent or contradicting areas in the story of events. Once again it is important not to come across with an accusatory tone or to debate the issue but to bring up how there might be some logical problems with some part of their statement. Simply in a neutral tone ask them to help you rectify the apparent inconsistency.
Then once you are satisfied with their statement, feel it is complete, and have a thorough understanding of the events from their perspective, you can close the interview. Ask if there is any other information that you should know about or anything that the interviewee would like to add. Finally thank them for their time and for giving you their statement and reassure them about any concerns they may have.