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Published: Wednesday November 23, 2016

Interviewing - Unleash your inner child

There is no doubt in my mind that there has been considerable improvement in the way in which we undertake information gathering interactions with others. A much greater understanding of how effective communication works and the idiosyncrasies of the human psyche have all been instrumental in that process.

This development and change can be seen across many sectors and disciplines from sales and marketing to our doctors and health specialists. But most significantly, this greater understanding of the what,how and why of effective interpersonal communication can be seen within law enforcement. The science based approach to investigative interviewing is a relatively new discipline formalised in the early 1990’s under what is now know as the PEACE model.  However it’s timeline stretches further back to the earlier work of Professor Eric Shepherd and his GEEMAC model and further afield to Dana Rodden and Don Rabon who are in  my mind genuine pioneers in this field.

The various systems which are now used tend to fall into two categories;

  •  The conversation based approach,
  • The accusatory approach,

I wish to focus on my preferred method – the conversation based approach. In the hands of a skilled and well schooled interviewer this  approach works well as it is an inter-view, an exchange of information, rather than the accusatory approach which is more interrogative with a strict  question – answer format.

However all systems have their strengths and weaknesses not least “operator failure”- everyone can drive a car not everyone does it well. One criticism of the conversational approach is that it can ramble on and become quite unfocused “beating around the bush” rather than being direct in its focus. Balanced against this is the undeniable fact that it is less pressurised , which means less anxiety and allows for a more holistic evaluation of the interviewee. This pays particular dividends when the process changes to the strategic presentation of evidence “accusatory” phase. Changes in verbal and non-verbal behaviour are more pronounced when compared with an observed “normative interviewing baseline” which assists in the identification of areas needing probing and detailed examination.

The now commonplace contrast and compare methodology of challenging an account requires pre-texting the introductory question in the terms of comparing what was said earlier by the interviewee against what is known and evidenced. This is a pivotal point in the process as it marks the move into more direct questioning and probing and it is where I have seen individuals schooled in the conversational method on occasion loose their way. The most common manifestation is the need to continue to pretext the questions after presenting  the opening challenge  rather than just being focused and direct, digging down towards the fine detail.In effect in such situations  the interviewer appears to become burdened by the process to that point and finds it harder to switch to being inquisitive.

It is at this point the interviewer may need to channel their inner child.

In my humble opinion the pre-school phase of bringing up children is the most rewarding and memorable time. This admittedly is an ego thing because at that time you are the centre of their universe and the font of all knowledge. Children at this stage of their development are like sponges soaking up knowledge and it seems like every utterance from their mouths starts with “why, what, where, when and how”.

An article on the BBC News website provides answers to those extremely tricky questions children may ask like;

  •  How much does the sky weigh?
  • What is time?
  • Why don’t birds get electrocuted when they land on overhead wires?
  • Why is water wet?

And my all time favourite “Why can’t people leave other people alone”?

A child approaches these questions from a totally innocent perspective unfettered by the bias and world weary viewpoint of an adult. They ask questions to get the answers they need to form fresh images in their minds rather than to fit with a pre-conceived perspective. If the answer offered does not provide them with the required amount of information, they will follow up with more questions. The questions will be direct, sometimes unanswerable but their lack of precognition allows the child  to ask the questions we would not dream of asking.

We can’t go back and unlearn everything we have experienced and be in that brief point in our lives where everything was a new experience and the world and everything in it was a wonder.  But there is something to be said for considering channelling our inner child when needed and not be afraid to ask the question “why did you do that?”

“The hardest thing about reality is returning to it after an hour inside your child’s mind”.

Robert Brould

Article written by Bob Pointer  Founder CFIL

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