“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

-Mark Twain-

I don’t know about you, but early on in my career the subject of bias was rarely if ever discussed.  Now, I hear about bias all the time, and lots of different types of bias. So, what do we do about these things called bias?

An investigator’s or auditor’s job is to come to an unbiased conclusion about something that has occurred or something that is said. We are mediators of one thing and that is truth. But if the investigator or auditor is impacted by unconscious biases, staying impartial can be challenging. It’s important, therefore, for anyone conducting investigations or audits to recognize the potential for bias and work towards eliminating it. The more we understand our own biases, and the vulnerability we have to be influenced by cognitive biases, the more we can do to prevent these biases from impacting our decision making and actions.

Although this focus has certainly intensified in recent years, a thorough, well-planned interview will minimize the effect of these biases.  To be clear, we each have many biases, we have to if we have lived.  We have been raised a certain way, by certain people, in certain communities, with a certain religion or beliefs, and been exposed to many like us.  The result is we are wired a certain way. This wiring creates biases.

What are these biases?  Let me name just a few, but from an interviewing, investigation, and auditing perspective, we are going to minimize their effect the same way.

Unconscious or Implicit bias are attitudes that are held subconsciously and affect the way individuals feel and think about others around them, or to describe when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.

Cognitive bias is a systematic thought process caused by the tendency of the human brain to simplify information processing through a filter of personal experience and preferences.

Investigator bias is when the investigator skews the entire process towards a specific outcome in order to portray a certain result.

With those definitions in mind, can you look at the list and see where you may hold some of these biases that can come to the surface in your work?  I sure can.  So, what do we do to minimize their effect on our work product?

First and foremost, is we must conduct a well-planned, effective, rapport based, non-confrontational interview. Too many interviewers have not received adequate basic, let alone, advanced training that would facilitate the minimization of these barriers.

I inserted this quote because it is imperative to minimize these biases. Quality rapport allow us to begin to understand the person we are interacting with and gives us the opportunity to find commonality. In the interview, what you think and what you believe is irrelevant to what you need to find out. You are there to find the truth, not to convince someone that your way is the best way. We must seek to understand. This process is then further clarified by asking well-constructed and delivered questions. The words we use have a significant effect on the answers we get.

I want to understand the interviewee’s world view; what do they believe, what matters to them.  It is only through this knowledge that we can obtain the greatest quality and quantity of truthful information. Those truths are what lead to the resolution of the audit or investigation.

This ability to find commonality and understanding directly relates to our ability to develop themes and relevant rationalizations, projections, and minimizations to allow the individual to accept responsibility for their actions and to describe the full truth.

Again, I hope I made it abundantly clear that it is not about what you believe, think, or feel that is important at this juncture.  Can you put yourself in their shoes?  When we do that, biases dissipate.  Our being cognizant of their existence also allows us to keep our biases in check.

Let me offer up one example that I continually emphasize in training: Research has made clear that there are no nonverbal and verbal cues uniquely related to deceit.  In other words, reliable cues to deception akin to Pinocchio’s growing nose do not exist.

Interviewers share mistaken beliefs about how people behave and what they say when they lie.  These beliefs come from others and frankly, television. Although research studies have shown repeatedly that gaze aversion, grooming gestures, and frequent posture changes do not correlate with deception, interviewers still receive training that relies upon these cues to detect lies and that is sad.  Worse, they use that information in interviews.

These erroneous beliefs about cues to deception often persist in the face of contrary information because of illusory correlations (the perception of associations that do not exist), confirmation bias (a tendency to seek information that confirms existing beliefs), and belief perseverance (a tendency to dismiss information that challenges an already established opinion or belief).

While reliance upon nonverbal behavior is not categorically discouraged in literature, its popularity has certainly waned. Instead, the past 25 years have witnessed the generation of a large body of speech-related deception research, which many researchers argue is more diagnostic of deception. I spend much more time on verbal indicators than non-verbal in all our training. 

Rather than passively observing a subject’s behavior and then comparing it to generalized, stereotypical beliefs about lying, interviewers can now employ proactive techniques designed to elicit empirically validated cues to deception. 

These methods of detecting deception in verbal and nonverbal communication have moved from emotion-based lie-detection techniques to cognitive load lie-detection techniques that focus on liars’ and truth tellers’ different psychological states and take their differential strategies into account. These proactive techniques can neutralize the issue of biases effect on the interview.

When it comes to accomplishing goals and positive interview results have you thought about whether these biases are affecting your interview landscape? Or are you introspective enough to recognize and identify them?  Do you strategize and plan for opportunities to minimize the effect of biases by implementing good interview technique?  If not, why not? 

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 issues of our biases or any training need, please reach out.  Additional issues pertaining to interviewing, auditing, 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, stay safe out there, and begin recognizing our personal biases and how to minimize them in the conduct of our interviews, investigations, and audits.

Mark A. Anderson

Director of Training and Development

Anderson Investigative Associates, llc

114 Loucks Avenue

Scottdale, PA 15683