Practicing Pre-Interview Preparation & Maintaining Control
By William Majeski, LPI, Senior Advisor
Social media searches can be fruitful for the investigative researcher. Clues gained through open source techniques are often incredibly handy. An investigator can create serious leads to further an investigation and run analytical exercises to help reveal the greater or lesser results of your targeted goals. But overall, most online intelligence gathering is done in the pursuit of supporting the investigative interview. To have all the answers in-hand before you step into an interview’s conversation makes for a powerful advantage. Conversely, if you start a conversation without anticipating the answers or knowing what to expect, you can truly be taken off guard—to possibly disastrous results.
In this 3-part blog series, William Majeski, Hg’s Senior Advisor and investigator, explores the art and science of communication. As a seasoned investigator, I know when my limits are showing. It’s then that I lean on Majeski to review my findings and to start asking the hard questions. ~ Cynthia Hetherington
Throughout investigative history, one element has remained a constant: Skillful communication. The investigator’s ability to convey a message and successfully interact are fundamental to the investigative process. It will always be an essential ingredient in the formula that will achieve productive information and lead to successful outcomes. Any investigator with a solid foundation of sound investigative practices and exceptional communication skills will always find a resolution.
This week we review the five strategic ways we can enhance our interview skills and focus specifically on Observing Body language and Understanding the Power of Body Language.
The interview is the heart of an investigation, and skillful communication is its soul. It is a conversation with the purpose of gathering information; a process in which we deal with people, their thoughts, their actions, their reactions, and their emotions—none of which are always predictable. Ideally, we’d like our interviewing skills to be a masterful technique in which we can adjust to any interview regardless of the subject or the circumstances.
We can help achieve these goals by enhancing our performance skills in five strategic ways: Listening attentively, Playing communication chess, Observing body language, Understanding the power of body language, and Practicing pre-interview preparation.
Practicing Pre-interview Preparation
A seasoned investigator can promptly jump into any situation and obtain information, but it is the tenacious investigator who gathers case-closing evidence. The methodical nature of a good investigation mandates quality interviews. This process of gathering information cannot achieve full success without preparation.
When gathering preliminary information, take what is made available; data collected in social media posts, public records, and open sources might appear unimportant now but could be meaningful later. Gain a clear understanding of the circumstances surrounding the crime, incident, event, or issue under investigation; doing so gives the interview a precision process.
Identify goals and formulate a basic hypothesis on how to achieve them.
Establish the cast of characters and the parts each may be playing (participant, suspect, informant, victim, or witness) as the investigation unfolds. Create reference notes in an orderly fashion. There will be situations when time is of the essence with no time to compile reasonable notes. Even on the run, time will be afforded to gather verbal information. Employ listening skills to absorb details necessary to mentally prepare for the interview.
The Interview Process
If the foundation of an investigation is the interview, then knowledge about the case is the foundation of that interview. Knowing the subject matter and at least something about the interviewees allows for communication with confidence. The initial impression that we give to the interviewee can easily tilt progress either for or against us. Appearing and conveying self-assuredness work to our benefit no matter who we are interviewing. Innocent subjects, witnesses, and victims are more likely to feel comfort when our competency is exhibited. Conversely, guilty subjects, unwilling witnesses, and disinclined victims have a greater reluctance to resist and deny. An image of weakness will welcome resistance and one of hesitancy will encourage detachment, but confidence will foster cooperation.
Knowing our focus and the points of discussion allow us to control the pace and direction of the interview. Ideally, our questioning process should follow a logical progression, allowing for deviation when it relaxes the atmosphere. Maintaining objectivity is important as is having the insight to recognize any ongoing emotional or psychological deviations that might require adjustments in the process. Some personalities prefer a loosely structured conversation while others respond to disciplined dialogue; make that determination and adjust accordingly.
Control the dialogue but do not discount the power of manipulating the messaging. Conscious awareness of our own body language will allow us to emphasize the importance of the words delivered; the interviewee will unconsciously receive expressions and gestures. When the interviewee begins to provide questionable information, a subliminal appropriate look or a silent signal will often deter the deceptive delivery. Our observation skills allow us to recognize any contradictions in verbal delivery and non-verbal behavior, letting us respond accordingly.
Unquestionably the interviewer must maintain control of the interview process in order to accomplish set goals. It is unreasonable to believe that it can be accomplished without obtaining preliminary information, without thoughtfulness, without the ability to govern one’s self, and without fully exercising one’s skills of communicating.
Control means much more than believing that we are in charge. At the onset, explain or reinforce the reasons for the interview, what’s hoped to be achieved, and the reasons why it is so important to have cooperation. This creates an image of what is expected of the interviewee going forward. Resistance should be responded to quickly, gently, but definitively.
This 3-part blog series has highlighted many important components of the interviewing process. By no means does it represent all that is important. Following these steps will open up the investigations process to much more investigative opportunities.
With twenty years of global experience uncovering information on foreign business interests, small private companies, and backgrounding individuals and products, Hg’s expert advisers employ interviewing techniques that reveal far-reaching intelligence on hedge funds, private equities, and corporations; their principles, investment managers, and employees. Our interviews are conducted onsite and serially over a pre-determined period of time to probe leadership, the team, philosophical beliefs, tools, procedures, and systems. Learn how our team can help you mitigate risk at home and abroad.
Mr. William Majeski has been Senior Advisor and lead investigator on complex litigation matters to the Hetherington Group since 1998. A 21-year veteran of the New York City Police Department, Mr. Majeski provides security and investigative services to corporate, business, legal, and private clients. He has conducted thousands of interviews, polygraphs, and interrogations in his career. He is considered an expert on the subjects of communication and attentive listening.