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The Power of a Thank You: Using Soft Language in the Interview

“Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you.”

thank you
What, “thank you” in an interview? Are you crazy? That isn’t how they do it on television. Why would you do that with someone that is an adversary?

Well, first of all, if you are entering the interviewing landscape thinking you are an adversary to the interviewee, you have made a huge mistake. If you see yourself as an adversary, you probably should have someone else complete the interview. We are mediators in these interviews, not adversaries. We are there with one objective, to elicit the truth and all the details surrounding it. What we must do is move an unwilling participant to a position of being willing to share that information that they likely have no desire to provide to us. Our one objective is the truth.

If we believe haranguing and harassing those individuals into providing information is going to get us success, we are wrong. Our goal needs to be to build rapport and relationship in our exchanges, quickly and effectively. It is through this success that we will move the interviewee to a more cooperative and communicative demeanor. In this frame of mind, the interviewee will likely share more information and better quality information than they ever intended to.

How do we do this? Most of the effective methods to employ are the same they would be in life in general, to build trust and relationship. One of the first is to use the term “thank you”. In my 30 plus years of interviewing, I look back and find none where I said thank you too much, but I find plenty where I should have said it more. And I use thank you more than most. Think about it in your own life….let’s say at your workplace. Are any of you overwhelmed by the number of times your boss has actually thanked you? Certainly looking back, that would not be a dilemma that I ever faced…of course not because I didn’t deserve it.

So in the interview room, say thank you frequently. Even for the most trivial of information provided say an affirmative phrase such as, “thank you very much for telling me that Dan, I really appreciate that information.” We are all affected by positive accolades and this simple statement, affirms the individual, builds trust, and sets you up for obtaining more information.

Coupled with the thank you is the use of the interviewee’s name. You can’t use names too much in the interview. Think of the importance of names, such as when you were growing up and your parents called you. You knew by the way they said your name if you were going into a positive or negative situation. Names also build familiarity, because we use them more with the people we are closest to, and those people we tend to share the most trust with, and therefore information.

So, there are two suggestions that help to make an interview more like a conversation and increase the information gleaned. How about a third? Eliminate harsh language from your interview landscape. This is true regardless of the interview, criminal or administrative; investigative, audit, inspection, or human resources. What do I mean by harsh language? Well, it depends on the interviewing arena. In criminal investigations I stay away from the use of criminal statutes, attorney, judge, sentence, prison, etc. These are terms that get an emotional response and those emotions often shut down the interviewee. Think in your field of interviewing, what are those words that create fear? Fear is the commodity that limits the information we obtain in the interview room.

So how do you avoid these? It is a process where you work to change your vocabulary and it becomes a natural transition. What is an example? I use the term decision maker instead of judge. I would not say you robbed someone, but rather you took something. I do want to raise the stress level based on the information/evidence I possess in the interview environment, but I don’t want words that provoke stress to interfere with the quality of information I receive. You can find more on this in a blog I authored on Responses vs. Answers, and the Time Responsibility Continuum.

All of these techniques are effective at improving rapport in an interview. As much as rapport is downplayed by many and actually effectively employed in less than 10% of all interviews, it is essential for many reasons, and success is severely hampered by the absence of it. These are some of the benefits of quality rapport deployment:
• Conditions interviewee to talk
• Establishes a baseline of behavior
• Begins immediately in the interview room, or even in first contact (telephone)
• Establishes trust…..commonality
• Must be re-emphasize if reserved or hostile
• Must establish in all interviews including subjects as well
• Must continue throughout interview as needed

I return to rapport frequently if I inadvertently raise stress/fear at an inopportune time by something I say or do. Then I can build that stress based on my results which builds credibility and results in admissions/confessions.

Think about it in your own life. How much do you share with someone you don’t trust? How open are you with someone who harasses and harangues? Please realize that the fear we create is based on consequences, not because you can be a total tool in the interview room.

These issues are very important to our success in interviewing. I spend significant time in classes I teach examining these soft issues and their effect on interview results. In my experience, one homicide case I looked at, the subject clearly stated after his conviction that one of his main reasons for confessing to the crime was because the detective shook his hand at the beginning of the interview. In his 20 plus years of criminal conduct this was the first law enforcement person to ever shake his hand. To us, in our lives, this may be no big deal, but remember in the interview room it is not about your experience. We must minimize bias and do those things that make a difference to maximize our success.

Anderson Investigative Associates is positioned to custom tailor training to your specific needs. If you have any questions, or would like to discuss the above or any training need, please reach out to me. Additional issues pertaining to interviewing and investigations can be found in other blogs that I have written and are contained in most blocks of instruction that our company presents.

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