This is the first in a series called Tricks of the Investigator Trade.  

The more we do something, the easier it gets. That is true of most professions, and especially true of EEO investigators. The more you conduct interviews, the easier it gets.   The problem is, you can become so good at preparing and asking questions that you go on autopilot and miss key opportunities to follow-up. In our experience, this failure to follow-up is the most common reason investigations are deficient. As you read this, you may think it doesn’t apply to you, but are you sure? This article may surprise you.sherlock silouette
The best investigators are prepared and immediately put the witness at ease, and the worst are unprepared or think they are on an episode of NCIS and interrogate the witness. Take a look at our list of helpful hints and see if you routinely practice them.
Here are our top 10 helpful hints:
  1. Set the tone. Put the witness at ease from your first contact with them by adopting a professional tone without sounding adversarial. Be courteous, but business-like; self-confident but sensitive; sincere, yet probing.
  1. Control. Remain in control of the interview at all times.
  1. Stay neutral. Don’t be drawn into arguments or discussions. Instead, ask the witness why they hold a particular opinion. Probe for the evidence.
  1. Stick to asking questions. Don’t express your personal opinions. Remember you’re a neutral party. Don’t imply you’re on their side.
  1. Ask your prepared questions.
    • Begin with a very broad question to get the witnesses to share what they know about the claims. Follow-up with specifics, and only use yes and no questions when you need to clarify something.
    • Listen to response and listen for things that require further probing.
    • Don’t rely so much on your prepared questions that you miss vital follow-up questions!
  1. Don’t ask multi-part questions. Instead take one question at a time so you can fully listen to the answer and listen for areas requiring follow-up.
  1. Note follow-up questions. Take notes during the interview to assure follow up questions are asked and/or other relevant witnesses or documents are identified.
  1. Summarize. Briefly recount what you’re being told by the witness by paraphrasing.
  1. Resolve inconsistencies. Offer all witnesses the opportunity to clarify any contradictory statements made by them. 
  2. Ask if they have anything to add. At the end of your prepared questions, ask the witness if they have anything else to add. You can sometimes get a valuable piece of information that they forgot to share earlier.
It’s easy to do investigations by habit, but that will often lead to less than stellar results. Take a look at this list before your next interview, hopefully it will refocus and reenergize your investigations.  
What did we miss? Share your best practices for interviewing witnesses!
In our next post, we’ll discuss tips for preparing for the interview.
If you conduct Federal EEO investigations and are in need of refresher training, click …here
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