Mark A. Anderson
Anderson Investigative Associates
A person (or an animal) who feels there are no alternatives will fight even when violence isn’t justified, even when the consequences are perceived as unfavorable, and even when the ability to prevail is low.
-Gavin De Becker
Why is a focus on fear so important?
When we plan and complete interviews, we must keep fear paramount in our minds. There are many interviewers that don’t even consider fear during planning or strategizing for an interview. This is a huge mistake and extremely short-sighted.
Fear needs to be considered across the board. First, we should be cognizant of our own fears and have effectively dealt with them before the interview engagement. We know that credibility and confidence are the premier reasons that interviewees tell us the truth, and fear would certainly devalue those qualities.
Are we not being as confident and credible as we could be because of the effect of fear? Given this, identifying what is the root of our fears in interviewing is the first step to get training, practice, and develop a strategy to minimize fear’s impact.
Those self-imposed fears, need to be dealt with consistently so that they don’t negatively impact your ability to conduct an effective interview.
Next, when you are preparing for an interview, fear needs to be factored into the planning of the interview. What fear is present? Why is that fear present? What might the interviewee say, because of that fear? The more research and planning you do for the interview, especially the characteristics of your interviewee, the more you will identify these fears and be able to develop a plan to mitigate them.
These fears often correspond to denials and rationalizations that will be offered during the interview, so this identification process is paramount for fears and for possible denials. It allows you to consider themes and plausible approaches to minimize both.
First what is fear? Dr. Karl Albrecht breaks down fear into five types:
1. Extinction – essentially for fear of annihilation, of ceasing to exist.
a. Examples of triggers include: The dark, flying, heights, fatal diseases.
2. Mutilation or Bodily Invasion – fear of having our boundaries invaded.
a. Examples of triggers include: Our anxieties about spiders or snakes, animals like dogs or sharks – and any animal you believe to be harmful. Also, anxiety about crowds, needles, germs, surgical procedures or having to make a trip to the dentist, or for me the childhood visit to the barber.
3. Loss of Autonomy – the fear of being restricted, trapped suffocated, or confined.
a. Examples of triggers include: Commitment, poverty, debilitating illness, aging. Also, situations where we feel helpless or powerless. Most parents will also feel this fear from time to time – overwhelmed, trapped, and restricted, because they have a responsibility (children) that can’t be given up!
4. Separation, Abandonment or Rejection – we have a strong need to belong.
a. Examples of triggers include: When a relationship ends – a friendship, divorce or death of a loved one. Sometimes when a relationship ends, we also lose an extended set of friends too increasing that loss of connectedness. This type of fear can also be triggered when a relationship deepens and with that an experience of vulnerability – what happens if this person I rely on leaves me – so a fear of intimacy!
5. Humiliation, Shame or Worthlessness – Albrecht calls this fear, “Ego-death.”
a. Examples of triggers include: Failure, criticism, bullying, victimization, mistakes, public speaking. There are genuine shame triggers like when we’re caught in a lie or do something considered wrong by society. Feelings of shame and worthlessness are often triggered be an expectation of judgement or criticism (from ourselves or others) when we mess up – losing one’s job, or if we left our house unlocked and got burgled. In addition, sometimes when we are the victim – whether it’s rape, bullying or slander, we are left feeling ashamed and worthless – literally worth “less”.
Albrecht states that all fear falls into one of these areas or a combination of two or more.
The fear that we see in the interview room can fall into several of the above areas. The denials and rationalizations will form their genesis from those fears. The most obvious fear is the fear to confess. That fear is based on the consequences of what was done, and what will happen to them. This fear and the issues associated with it must be surmounted before an admission can be gained and the matter resolved.
If as an interviewer you can keep this fear issue paramount in your mind, the other items in the process of rationalization flow from it. This attention to fear allows for the effective development of themes and a focused approach for minimizing denials.
In this process of theme development an opportunity exists for the development of a relationship with the interviewee. This relationship should be one of a mediator rather than an adversary. Let’s face it, we don’t determine punishments or actions, we are simply mediators of the truth, that is our only role. This allows the interviewee to view us more favorably (or humanly). The interviewee sees the interviewer as a person who faces problems and turmoil in his everyday life, just as he/she does. This creates trust. If this trust does not exist, the interviewee is much less likely to confess.
This process also allows the interviewer to create the perception of transferring guilt to someone or something else. This minimizes the interviewee’s perception of the seriousness of the crime. This appears to make him/her a victim of circumstances rather than the initiator of the crime. This effect diminishes fear.
This process allows the opportunity to focus the interviewee’s attention on the resolution of the incident, rather than the consequences. This focus on the resolution is essential to allowing the interviewee to put the incident behind them and leading him/her to believe that it is in their best interest to confess. If the focus remains on the consequences (jail time, fines, and loss of employment) the interviewee is much less likely to confess, because as you can imagine, fear increases.
Focus on fear. Resolve our fears and understand the interviewee’s fears. How many of them are we causing by our looks, actions, and attitudes? How many are based on circumstances that can be changed? What are the ones relevant to the content of the interview and what can we do to mitigate them? Based on those fears, what are themes that can be employed to successfully negotiate the interview landscape? Are we prepared to explore those fears and strategize a resolution in the interview room?
If you want a greater understanding of the subject of fear both in terms of interviewing and in living life in general, may I make a suggestion? The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker gave me a much broader and complete understanding of what fear is and the effects of it. It is one of those reads that causes you to reevaluate you thought processes on this issue.
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 and videos that I have produced and are contained in most blocks of instruction that our company presents.
If you have additional questions, comments, or have an interviewing topic you would like me to address, give me a shout. In the meantime, be well and stay safe out there.
Mark A. Anderson
Director of Training and Development
Anderson Investigative Associates, llc
114 Loucks Avenue
Scottdale, PA 15683