Many investigators are lawyers or professionals who “think like a lawyer.” Parties and witnesses have also come to expect us to be like Perry Mason, launching a well-crafted series of questions all leading to one logical, cliff-hanger conclusion.
But picture yourself in a law school class, on the receiving end of the Socratic method. Are you chatty and forthcoming? No, you’re guarded, not in a sharing mood. You’re busy thinking about the next question and the next answer. You’re questioning yourself, everything you say, and how you’re saying it. It’s cat and mouse.
By contrast, think back to your very best investigation moments. A witness “opens up” and – to your surprise and perhaps even hers – she “volunteers” something really important. You sense a flow, and you stay out of the way. You cede control and become an active listener and learner, not the aggressor in a tough chess game. Your gaze is not harsh and glaring; you’ve turned into a mirror.
Here are three tips for recognizing when you’re out of the zone and getting back in.
1. Look who’s talking. If Freud’s talking more than the patient, the dialogue probably isn’t working. Take a break. Back up to open-ended questions. Be a mirror –in all respects, down to the witness’s own expressions, gestures, and moods. This is of course surprisingly difficult and takes practice.
2. Slow down, Socrates. If you’re plowing through your outline like a checklist, pause. We all know that most investigations involve situations that are anything but logical. Usually, we’re digging into misunderstandings, mistakes, hurt feelings, arrogance, and insecurities. Emotions frame the picture, so consider asking about a witness’s emotional reaction to a situation even before you dive into facts.
3. End with a gut check –theirs, not yours. Don’t close your interview by telling a witness, “You’ve been so helpful, and I learned a lot today.” They don’t care about you. Ask about them, how they’re feeling. “Do you think I got your side of the story? “Do you feel like you’ve been heard?” “Is there anything you’re worried about that we should discuss?”
Through its network of attorney investigators and project management technology, Aequitask delivers fair, fast, thoughtful, and thorough workplace and campus investigations on time and on budget. Learn how your organization or law firm can get an expert discrimination, harassment, Title VII, Title IX, fraud, conflict of interest, or other compliance investigation and a highly defensible final report within days or weeks and at a predictable fixed fee by visiting www.Aequitask.com or calling 1-800 554-1081.