We hear all through life the importance of finishing strong. We hear it in academics and sports, and the concept is drilled into us, in part, because it is so difficult to accomplish. The difficulty is we get tired; we get discouraged; we don’t have the intestinal fortitude to finish with the necessary intensity and strength. In audit and investigative interviewing, much like these other activities, we must find the way to finish well, because much of the quality information we receive will be generated from our ability to finish and close with finesse.
Despite the importance of finishing strong and completing a quality summary and closing, in practice, it is not happening. In recent studies, especially in fraud and white collar interviewing, less than 10% of interviews include an adequate summary and closing. This statistic although dismal, is even worse in interviews that are more complex and last longer. This is the antithesis of what should be happening. It makes no sense that more complex interviews are less likely to have a summary or closing, or that the longer the interview takes the percentage chance of a summary diminishes. This is counter intuitive, but it is the reality of interviewing. Why is this?
There are a number of reasons we see this. For some, the concept of doing a summary is unnecessary because everybody present is an adult and knows what was discussed. This, however, does not account for bias, stress, or perspective. There is also the issue of endurance, just like in an athletic endeavor, if that interview goes on and on, do we have the stick-to-it-ness to be there from beginning to end….the very end. I think plenty of times the interviewer gets tired, wants the interview to be over, gets frustrated, or wants their next meal, (or drink). Whatever it is, eliminating a quality summary and close is not the answer. We will look at some of the elements to having an outstanding summary and close, and I am sure that each of you will find something positive here to implement into your interviewing repertoire. Now there is one other characteristic that contributes to this problem that we must mention, and that is laziness. If this is your reason, then likely everything written hereafter will make you work harder, and you won’t do it anyhow.
So for those of you with a desire to grow and learn, let’s explore this subject and some ideas of what we can do to improve our interviewing techniques and the quality of the results that we obtain. This process to see these improved results begins far before the interview itself. It begins in the planning phase of the interview and doesn’t culminate until the interview is over. Studies also clearly reflect that adequate planning for interviews is done in less than 10% of all interviews conducted. We plan to make sure we are at the right place, and to know the subject matter of the interview, but we don’t invest thoroughly to know who we are talking to, what motivates them, and what their “Achilles heel might be.” We must do excellent comprehensive planning to set the ground work for an outstanding interview.
One of the areas of interviewing that we short change the most by this lack of effective planning is our ability to establish meaningful and intimate rapport during the interview. Most all, acknowledge the importance of rapport in the process, but when put into practice its application is consistently average at best. Adequate rapport is completed in a very small percentage of interviews, and many of the reasons established above for poor summaries, apply here. We must overcome this tendency in each and every interview. The person we are talking to has very little motivation to be completely honest with a stranger that they share no commonality with. It is only through our efforts to develop quality rapport that we can draw on and establish that commonality that builds likeability and trust. It is these factors that allow us to obtain a higher quality and quantity of information in our interviews.
When does this rapport begin? It is necessary for it to begin at the very first interaction, no matter the mode of communication. First impressions, although unfair, are a reality that we must accept and deal with. People form these impressions in the first 15-30 seconds, and they are difficult to unravel. Think of yourself and how quickly those impressions take form in your mind, and how strong and lasting those impressions can be. We cannot afford to create this obstacle to overcome before the interview even begins.
Issues to keep in mind from the start include how will you work to come across in the first contact be it phone or in person? Do not engage the interviewee with an attitude of arrogance or authoritativeness, as these increase potential resistance, dramatically. This contact should be as non-threatening as possible, and I would never initiate the interview using a title like “Detective”, “Special Agent”, etc. The effect of these words is the same reason we should always use “soft” words in the interview. I always introduce myself, as I would on the street, with my name. Use “decision maker”, not “attorney”; stay away from “sentence,” “punishment,” “sexual assault,” “theft,” etc. These terms have a huge chilling effect, and their use has no positive consequences for the interview. When we move away from this more communicative approach in an interview, it is usually because of our own frustration and errors, rather than having anything to do with the interviewee. Remember, we can’t go from confrontational and argumentative, to non-confrontational and friendly. It doesn’t work that way and any attempt to do so adversely affects your credibility, and this effect decreases openness and trust, and increases resistance.
Something else to keep in the forefront of your mind as you establish rapport is “People like to talk to people like themselves.” I can be all things to all people in an interview, and I will strive to find those points of commonality with the person I am speaking with. Finding those commonalities allows us to establish “relationship” with the interviewee. In the beginning phase of rapport we should be observing baseline behaviors from both a verbal and non-verbal perspective. We can assess their intelligence, ability to understand, and their mental and physical health. These all prove useful in strategizing the direction and steps you take throughout the interview.
Although general questions have a place in rapport, if we stay in the realm of these casual questions we will never reach the level of “relationship” necessary to fully develop trust and decrease resistance in the interview. Consequently, I see the journey in rapport as peeling away the layers of an onion. We should be adeptly moving through casual rapport, establishing close rapport, and through empathy and active listening, moving to intimate rapport. Ultimately, this allows the interviewee to share those things with us that he had no intention of sharing. This process should be consistent and facilitated by good planning, communicative dialogue, and adept listening skills.
Although this process should be consistent in all interviews, if you meet resistance to rapport and the interviewee just wants to get down to what you are there about, don’t continue with rapport as it will have the opposite effect of what is desired and negatively affect trust and resistance. In these cases, just move to your questioning, being mindful to infuse rapport at appropriate opportunities during questioning. This way the interviewee feels things are moving on in the interview, but those rapport opportunities should continue to be sought. And even in interviews where the rapport has been robust, as you enter the question phase of the interview, you want to continue to seek those opportunities to conduct more rapport, establishing more commonality, increasing trust, and decreasing resistance.
Having established quality rapport, don’t ruin it during questioning. There is nothing worse than the interviewer who appears like “Mr. Rogers” during rapport, and when questioning begins “Attila the Hun” shows up. We must maintain a consistency to maximize credibility throughout the interview process. Ask all those questions that you are there to ask, and ask them well. Plan out the appropriate wording and get them answered. As my Dad always said, “it is not what you say; it is how you say it, no truer words were ever spoken.
Now with the questioning completed and all the answers you were seeking obtained, this is where you want to use all the information you possess from planning, rapport, execution, and intelligence received to initiate a complete summary and closing. There are a plethora of reasons to support quality closing. What allows this to happen is that with good rapport, by this point in the interview, trust is maximized, and resistance is minimized. The interviewee in nowhere more vulnerable than here. A “relationship” is established and the best information is in your grasp. Essential to this is maximized active listening to insure that you are hearing what is being said. Your ability to hear this is greatest at this point of the interview as well because of your acquired knowledge of the interviewee.
Recognize that if you are going to complete the summary as a Joe Friday recitation of the facts, don’t bother doing this. It won’t elicit any additional information and likely irritate the interviewee. Remember the summary is about them and their story. Tell it in this way, inserting questions as needed to fill in details and obtain additional facts. Completing the summary in this way tells the interviewee that you have been listening, attentive, and concerned. From your own experience, when friends or colleagues do this it makes you feel closer to them, which can often cause you to share more information with them. This is the type of conversation we want to establish in the summary.
This quality closing should leave the door open for future contacts and interactions, something I always want to maintain. It allows friendly empathetic rapport when the interviewee is discussing their involvement and rationalizations. That empathy creates an environment conducive to volunteering additional information and details. If necessary, it ultimately makes serving subpoenas easier to complete, and it should be used to get emergency contact information and where best to reach the interviewee in the future.
Always include some questions in the summary and closing such as: “Is there any question I have failed to ask?” “Is there anything else you want to tell me, or you think I should know?” “What else do you think I should be looking at?” “What didn’t I ask that you expected me to?” Open ended questions such as these at this time can be very productive and produce additional leads and information.
Now step out and go interview, and finish well, my friend. Interviewing is a complex dynamic but with many simple truths. Try out these techniques and see if your summaries and closings become more productive and repository of more complete and truthful information. I found over the years that my summaries became longer and more conversational, producing some of the best information of the interview.