Investigation Interviewing - do you know how to do it correctly?

Article Published:Sep 3

In my opinion, the lack of interpersonal interaction is seriously affecting the success rate of investigation services. The modern trend of online communicating has led to a degree of laziness, which is costing companies a fair amount of cases. Simply put, investigators are sacrificing the single most important tool of an investigation – the face-to-face interview – in favour of e-mailed questionnaires, over the phone interviews and even text replies to questions. 

The importance of dealing with investigation subjects on a face-to-face basis, during all investigation services should never be replaced by technology or short cuts. Asking questions and pairing this with careful listening skills and visual observations (body language) is arguably the best investigative technique an investigation service businesses could possibly use. The manner in which a question is asked can ‘open doors’ to leads that may never have been seen had the interview not taken place face-to-face. 

Our investigators rely heavily on two types of questioning techniques during all investigator services, namely, open-ended questioning and close-ended questioning.  

Open-Ended Questions  

These require a more detailed response from the subject, witness or suspect.  

Close-Ended Questions 

These questions require ‘yes’ or ‘no’ type answers. My advice is to only opt for close-ended questioning when looking for a very specific answer or a definite confirmation on something . 

 As with all investigation services , the seasoned investigator will always build his questioning or interview process on the non-negotiable ‘BIG 5’ of investigating techniques .... who, what, when, why and how? Do not be tempted into assumption, it is fateful to any investigator and will open you up to not only embarrassment, but to potential legal suits too. 

In Statement, Lies and Video Tape, an article written for the insurance investigations sector, lists 10 tips for successful questioning during a face-to-face interview: 

  1. Ask more open ended questions ... it leads to more information being gathered.
  2. Ask closed ended questions to get a specific fact on something.
  3. Stay away from leading questions, eg. ‘you were standing close enough to see that it was Joe weren't you?’ This is an attorney trick often used in cross questioning, leave it to them!
  4. Avoid using negative wording, eg. ask ‘do you remember the colour of the car?’ As opposed to ‘you don't remember the colour of the car do you?’
  5. Organise your questions prior to your interview, keep them related to the individual topic. In other words, ask all your questions about the vehicle that was seen, then move onto the  questions about the person in the vehicle, then move onto the time etc. Use a logical order, don't jump about.
  6. Ask important questions several times and in different ways.
  7. Refrain from using technical terminology or words that the interviewee may not understand.
  8. Keep your questions simple, basic questioning will always work best.
  9. If the answer or response sounds confusing to you, redo the question. Try changing it to put you in the best position to fully understand the answer.
  10. Ask questions for information not confirmation. 

Ensure that the interview in its entirety is recorded . Our investigators make use of both handwritten notes as well as audio recordings during investigative services. If possible, we also use video which often helps with analysing the subject’s body language. 

Finally, allow me to point out that listening to the answer or response is as important as the asking of the question. 

Good luck and successful interviewing! 

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