Over Prepared Interviews: Interrogator Paralysis
Stan Walters / PATC
There is nothing unusual at all about any investigative interviewer preparing extensively for an upcoming interview.
There is really no situation that I can think of that I had too much information on hand when I went into the [interrogation] room. The danger may be however that we can become too obsessed with the preparation at the expense of being spontaneous and flexible when we finally get into the room. Certainly ‘turning unknowns into knowns” is a good strategy for reducing our tension as the interviewer and we often mentally practice what we are going to say and anticipate any possible surprises and build backup plans to deal with such surprises. Over preparation however can paralyze the interview and information recovery.
Are your “scripting” your interviews? One telltale sign of over preparation is literally scripting the interview questions. In some cases writing out the questions in advance and even sequencing the questions in the order they may be asked. The danger here is that the interviewer becomes so “fixated” on completing the list of questions that they fail to follow up on incomplete answers or on responses that warrant further attention be the interviewer. Listening to these interviews on tape makes you think the interviewer is merely in a conversation with himself, never hearing the subject.
Over preparation obsession is frequently manifests itself as pre-conception thinking by the interviewer. A common and easily recognized hallmark of an interviewer bearing pre-conceptions is an overwhelming presence of leading questions and especially the use of short answer questions.
If the casual observer where to map the direction of logic of the interviewers discourse he/she would find that questions are focused toward only one possible conclusion. Movement of the dialogue to a direction contrary to the pre-conceived charted course is met with resistance and the conversation directed back to the only acceptable conversation thread. This will be obvious despite that fact that often the subject’s responses clearly indicate the dialogue should follow the different track.
Finally, the obsessively over prepared interviewer will frequently find themselves extremely frustrated and impatient with their interview. He or she will invariably regard their interview subject as belligerent, antagonistic and uncooperative in the face of what the interviewer considers to be overwhelming evidence and logical proof. The frequent result is an interview that degrades into verbal hostilities with marginal or no real productive results. The interviewer frequently misses opportunities to elicit available information from their subjects due to the interviewer obvious growing frustration.
It is certainly prudent for any investigative interviewer to prepare for all their interviews. Dispensing with such preparation altogether and forging ahead on a wing and a prayer would be the devil’s folly. The best advice is to recognize that there is a delicate balance between being prepared and manically trying to prepare for every possible scenario, or worse yet, only one possible scenario. Preparation is essential but not at the expense of being able to respond to the numerous moments that will arise during the interview. This ultimately will require you to be flexible to change course and react spontaneously to your subject and their behaviors.
© 2006 by Stan B. Walters “The Lie Guy®”
Stan B. Walters writes, teaches & does keynote speeches internationally on deception, interview & interrogation. He is regularly called on by the media as an expert to comment on high profile cases.