effects of chemicalsThe subject of interviewing and interrogation is fascinating and consuming in all respects to me. There exist so many areas to be examined and reflected upon to address the plethora of issues that present themselves before, during, and after the interview process. Most of the issues considered are subjective in nature and based on human dynamics, however, it is illustrative when science rushes in to bolster those qualitative ideas we instruct and provide quantitative explanations. I seem to have a proclivity to look for this given my analytical background with degrees in chemistry. I enjoy seeing that direct relationship between what we observe and what science shows is the case. It only builds confidence in the pathway we pursue.
One of these areas is how we approach the interview from an attitudinal perspective. There are still many that want to enter the interview room with the television portrayed attitude of interviewing (Detective Sipowicz from NYPD Blues), which while entertaining, is not predictably successful. Despite this, the Type A personality and ego pour out and create an adversarial dynamic from the outset, and it often deepens as the interview progresses. It is not that long ago, when interviewers were taught the proverbial “good cop, bad cop” approach in mainline instruction, but its chances of success are low and counterintuitive to a fully productive interview. Today in training, we try very hard to stress the need to establish relationship in the first contact with the interviewee, be it in person or by phone. That initial interaction, like first impressions, can positively or negatively affect the level of obstacles you will have to overcome during your time of interaction.
Consequently, we must be positive, empathetic, and work to develop rapport throughout our contacts, just like we would if it we were on a first date. There are many similarities in the two arenas….building trust, credibility, and the ability to converse. This is how we do it, not through attitude, ridicule, and arrogance, which must be removed from the interview room process. I know in my career these negatives have come out in the interview room….and in retrospect, when they have surfaced it has been because of my own shortcomings or frustration. It had little to do with the one I was interviewing, but often times my lack of planning for eventualities. Remember, it is commonly held that people like to talk to people like themselves. How good are we at creating that environment?
We have to realize in interviewing that the interview environment has to be conducive to the creation of relationship, and it needs to be a positive one. Despite this, in interviewing it is fascinating to me the number of interviewers that enter the room with an attitude and arrogance that immediately alienates the interviewee. Then they wonder why they can’t gain cooperation and trust after single-handily destroying it initially. I teach consistently that once that spirit of cooperation and rapport is destroyed, it seldom can be rebuilt. Think about this in your own life, when someone violates the tenants of appropriate communication and they offend you, how much do you share with or interact with that person in the future. And is it fair to say it would almost be insurmountable to overcome in that friendship? So it is clear to see that we can only move from civil to angry to have success, and not the reverse. Practically we know this, but now we see that there is an element of human chemistry that clearly explains it. Understanding this chemistry can have an impact on every aspect of our relational life, not just interviewing.
The existence of this fact is why your initial approach to the interview and rapport has so much to do with the ultimate success you obtain. Chemistry plays a huge role in this phenomenon. Have you ever asked yourself while considering your relationship with a spouse or significant other, why do negative comments and conversations stick with us so much longer than the positive ones? How about a criticism from a boss, or an argument with a friend, or a disagreement with a colleague, why does the pain from these cause you to forget month’s of praise? We can easily and routinely forget, or minimize, all the compliments and praise sent our way over a period of time, yet with sniper accuracy hold on to distant comments by space and time, which any rational person has told you should have been buried away. I know this to be true from personal experience with a slip I uttered to my wife over ten years ago, and which still occasionally floats to the surface; yet compliments delivered weeks ago have been buried below the mundane of daily life.
With that said, understanding the chemistry of this issue will benefit you on several fronts, while at the same time substantiating something you have felt to be true from observation over the years. This is where chemistry provides the factual explanation for our observation. What occurs is when we face rejection, fear, criticism, when we are cut down, marginalized, insulted, or minimized, our bodies produce higher levels of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is known to shut down the areas of the brain for thinking, and at the same time activating protection and conflict aversion behaviors. Consequently, with this release we see even greater judgment and negativity than reality would suggest, establishing a downward spiral of thought and behavior. The hormone, Cortisol, acts like a sustained time-release cold tablet that makes its effect known over a substantial period of time. Research suggests that its effect can last upwards of 26 hours or more, thereby etching the interactions on our memories and magnifying the impact on our future behavior.
Consequently, in the interview room when we destroy rapport immediately through our words and actions, and we criticize, condemn, and judge, we effectively facilitate the release of cortisol with all of its deleterious effects. With the long term time-release action, is it any surprise that we are unable to establish cooperation in an interview, let alone obtain quality information or a confession.
Having covered the negative effects, there also is a chemical reaction that occurs from positive reinforcement, understanding and kindness. These positive interactions increase the production of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that elevates our ability to trust others, communicate, collaborate, and remember. This happens by its action on networks in our prefrontal cortex. However, unlike cortisol, oxytocin metabolizes more quickly, so its effects are milder and have a much shorter duration. No surprise here, the positive never seems to last as long!
So from an interviewing standpoint, what does this say? We need to employ those compliments, understanding, and lack of judgment repetitively throughout the interview to maximize cooperation and the quality of information that we receive. One of the nuggets that I instruct is the value of using the interviewees name throughout the process and the use of the term “thank you” repetitively to encourage continued cooperation.
This “chemistry of conversations” is why it’s so crucial for each of us – to be much more attentive, across the board, to words, attitudes, and actions occurring in our interviews and interactions. One of the studies I perused pertaining to this chemistry stated that our behaviors that increase cortisol levels in the one we are interviewing, reduces what they identify as, “Conversational Intelligence” or “C-IQ”. This reduction in C-IQ is directly related to an individual’s ability to connect and think innovatively, empathetically, creatively and strategically with others. This means in the interview, their ability to provide quality information decreases significantly. On the other hand, our behaviors that spark oxytocin, raise C-IQ and result in an increase in cooperation and the quantity and quality of information we can obtain.
We should focus on boosting C-IQ in the interview room, let alone, with our boss and significant other. It will increase the attitude and disposition of the one we are talking to, and further make that interaction more positive and productive. Surveys have been done on the effects of positive and negative statements and their impact on others, and as expected those positive statements caused positive survey results and the negative statements produced negative results. In those respondents exposed to a mix of positive and negative behaviors a dissonance of uncertainty occurred in respondent’s minds, spurring cortisol production and reducing C-IQ. With that came negative survey responses. From this, we can deduce that in the interview room any mixture of negative with the positive will cause the overshadowing of the good and compromise our results. We must keep a positive aura to the interview, by developing and maintaining good rapport, effecting good questioning techniques, and establishing commonality wherever possible.
This is not to suggest that we don’t have to confront situations and ask the tough questions when interviewing, because it is incumbent upon us to do this. But it’s important to do so in a way that is perceived as inclusive and supportive, thereby limiting cortisol production and hopefully stimulating oxytocin instead. Words of wisdom from years ago from my father come to mind, “it is not what you say, but how you say it.” Be mindful of the behaviors that open us up, and those that close us down, in our relationships. Harness the chemistry of conversations to work in our favor.
Judith E. Glaser and Richard D. Glaser, The Neurochemistry of Positive Communications, June 12, 2014, journal article.