It’s easy to assume that your next interviewee will want to cooperate with you and disclose information for the benefit of your investigation. This may be a natural assumption based upon your own perception of how you would act in the shoes of the interviewee – you would choose to cooperate, right?
Unfortunately, such an assumption could just be that. An assumption.
As part of our planning and preparation ahead of an investigative interview, we might try to anticipate potential interviewee cooperation levels and give thought to strategies we could employ to increase the chances of cooperation. We could arrange for the interview to occur at a time to suit the interviewee. We could even go out of our way to limit inconvenience to the interviewee by arranging to conduct the interview online (remote interview) or at their choice of venue (within current limitations of course).
We could even arrange to work at rapport right from the point of initial contact, going so far as to plan and research our neutral rapport-building topic. We can be sure of one thing though; if rapport isn’t established and maintained during your interview, the amount of information you are able to secure will be limited. Rapport has long been associated with productive interviewing exchanges. Even in a ‘ticking time-bomb’ situation involving terrorist suspects and other high-value detainees, rapport-based approaches designed to build an alliance between interviewer and interviewee have been proven to be more effective than coercive-based strategies (Gelles et al., 2006).
A recent collaborative study by researchers from four European universities examined the effects of cooperation on witness information disclosure. The researchers found that a lack of cooperation detrimentally impacted information disclosure and also, to a lesser extent, the accuracy of information provided at interviews with witnesses (Vilar et al., 2020).
When we think about planning for our rapport-building strategy, we might anticipate that our interviewee could be extremely time-poor. They may disagree with the scope of the investigation, or they could have an active reason not to cooperate. Loyalty, involvement, or some other vested interest could preclude them from fully opening up and talking to us freely.
Despite our planning efforts, however, there may be a number of different reasons why an interviewee may be inclined to restrict cooperation and thus restrict the information they are willing to disclose to you. We can mitigate against some of these factors as part of our interview planning, but what can we do once the interview commences and we realise cooperation isn’t on the agenda? What can we do to develop a connection or bond with our interviewee?
Picture yourself in an interview room and sitting across from a resistant interviewee who from the outset seems to be less than cooperative. Brandon et al., (2018) suggest we can deploy a rapport-based approach to counter several resistance strategies an interviewee may adopt:
- Refusal to talk: We can (i) demonstrate autonomy from the outset by offering a choice of seat in the room; (ii) use ‘social proof’ to explain others have had their chance to have their say; (iii) offer comfort in the form of a drink; or (iv) engage in the appropriate use of silence.
- Talks about their needs, beliefs, and problems, etc: We can (i) listen intently, and use words spoken by the interviewee to ‘mirror’ and acknowledge what is said in a bid to reduce the emotional intensity of what is conveyed; (ii) Explore any contradictory beliefs exhibited relating to the interviewee’s identity in order to ignite mutual discussion, “You’ve said you’re willing to assist, but you won’t talk about….”.
- Redirects conversation: We can (i) seek guidance from the interviewee to understand their motive for doing so; (ii) point out inconsistencies to draw out the interviewee’s beliefs and feelings encouraging discussion.
- Manipulates the relationship with the interviewer: Where the interviewee places blame on the interviewer and denies knowledge and responsibility the interviewer may, (i) Reframe the exchange by placing the interviewee in the position of ‘expert’ regarding what has occurred (ii) convey a context whereby the interviewer is merely working on behalf of an officer-in-charge (iii) provide an example whereby a similarly minded interviewee has moved towards a state of cooperation; (iv) frame the interview as a conversation or alliance between adults, each with a shared interest in the truth.
(Brandon et al., 2018)
You may note that the article by Brandon and her colleagues has strong contextual links to high-stakes interviews and interrogations within the US intelligence gathering context. Notwithstanding, practitioners may recognise a number of strategies above which can be applied in a softer setting outside of intelligence and law enforcement contexts.
At the end of the day, investigative interviews should be conversational by design and laced with rapport if accurate and reliable information is to be obtained. The idea should be that we develop a relationship with our interviewee, one that is based upon mutual respect and understanding. Only then can we expect conversation to flourish. Whilst an interviewee is talking, we’re gathering information. We can’t always guarantee that our next interviewee will be as helpful as we would hope, but there are rapport-based interventions that we can employ during an interview to increase cooperation where there is a need.
Brandon, S. E., Wells, S., & Seale, C. (2018). Science-based interviewing: Information elicitation. Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling, 15(2), 133–148. https://doi.org/10.1002/jip.1496
Gelles, M., McFadden, R., Borum, R. and Vossekuil, B. (2006). Al-Qaeda related suspects: A law enforcement perspective. In: Investigative interviewing: Rights, research, regulation. Devon, UK: Willan, pp.23–41.
Vilar, A. D. L. F., Horselenberg, R., Strömwall, L. A., Landström, S., Hope, L., & Koppen, P. J. (2020). Effects of cooperation on information disclosure in mock‐witness interviews. Legal and Criminological Psychology. doi: 10.1111/lcrp.12167