By Tom McGreal, CFI & Joanne Ryan, CFI
In the past, men and women have been viewed in traditional roles. Currently, these roles are becoming more blended. Both men and women may fail to build the necessary rapport for a successful interview. Either sex may appear unconfident, unorganized, unkempt, uninterested, and disrespectful. Both men and women may be able to develop an immediate rapport, be perceived as confident, extremely organized, respectful, non-confrontational, and very approachable. Depending upon their interview styles, either men or women may have the same positives and/or negatives. Proper non-confrontational interview styles, by either sex, may convince the most difficult subjects to agree to an interview.
Some subjects of interviews are less progressive in their views of men and women. Problems arise when persons being interviewed develop perceptions of others that are difficult to control by the interviewer. Women, because of past social roles, may project nurturing and understanding better than men. Some women are viewed as less confrontational and soften the view, by the person being interviewed, of the legal consequences resulting from the conversation. Conversely, male subjects may distrust and dislike women because of their own past experience(s) with the opposite sex. Other perceptions of men and women are cultural, giving members of one sex dominance over members of the opposite sex. To members of these cultures, women may appear weak and men may appear strong.
A man and woman, working as a team, may be able to capitalize on the benefits and lessen the negatives of perceptions that cannot be controlled by the interviewer. To be successful, the team must first project a chemistry that suggests confidence, trust, and understanding between themselves. Egos must be put aside and each member of the team must understand their own role in the interview. This role may change at a moment’s notice, and the transition of assignments must be smooth and nearly unnoticeable. If done properly, the subject of the interview may not be consciously aware of what has occurred. The subject may also develop a measure of respect, competency, and likability towards the interviewers, even if on a subconscious level.
The investigators’ goal is to obtain a truthful summary of facts. Even if the person is deceptive, the investigators may lock the subject into an untruthful statement that can be impeached later, if changed. Neither truth nor deception will be documented unless the person decides to speak with the investigators. To accomplish this task, the man and woman team must project that they like and respect each other and also develop a rapport with the person interviewed. All three persons must feel that they are members of the same team. Prior to meeting the person to be interviewed, the man and woman team must decide who is better suited to initially lead and conduct the interview. This decision may be based on knowledge of the investigation, past experiences with the person to be interviewed, character traits of the subject of interview, or a gut feeling of whom would be better suited to begin the interview. No matter who is chosen to initiate the conversation, the interview is only conducted by one person.
During the interview, if rapport is broken with the initial interviewer a transition must occur. Both members of the interview team must be perceptive and immediately aware of this break in communication. A change of mood may be observed when the person interviewed begins directing his/her responses to the team member chosen for the secondary role. If this occurs, an immediate transition must occur. Now the note-taker becomes the person conducting the interview, and the previous note-taker becomes the interviewer. If both members of the team have their egos in check and believe in the goal of the interview, this transition will be seamless and natural. The person interviewed may even have an unconscious feeling of respect for the team members who are treating each other with respect, and not talking over one another. An exception to this rule may occur when the person interviewed directs questions to the team member in the secondary role to avoid directly answering questions by the team member conducting the interview. The transition may still occur, but the secondary team member, now conducting the interview, should remain non-confrontational and continue with the attempt to get the subject to respond he the initial question.
As the interview is nearing completion the team member conducting the interview should ask the note-taker if he/she has any questions to ask the person interviewed. This is an opportunity to touch upon information that may have been missed by the person conducting the interview. Even at this stage, team members should continue to maintain rapport with the person interviewed. Small talk not related to the issue at hand is acceptable. The trust and rapport already established should not be broken. Future interviews and cooperation may be needed.
After leaving the location of interview, team members should debrief, discussing what went well with the interview, what mistakes were made, and what can be done to improve the next conversation. Team members should be aware that no two interviews are alike and constantly striving to improve their communication skills.
Two men and two women may also conduct competent and successful interviews. Problems may arise when persons interviewed have perceptions of the opposite sex that cannot be changed through competency or rapport building. It is in these cases that a male/female team may capitalize on these perceptions. It is in these cases that the team member with the more positive perception may continue gathering information and building upon the rapport already gained.
Both men and women have been proven to be successful and competent interviewers. Members of each sex are known to succeed when others of the same sex fail. Those who succeed have also been known to fail in certain settings, due to uncontrollable circumstances and perceptions. Encouraging male and female teams may alleviate some of the problems occurring as a result of negative perceptions of either sex. Even if these teams are formed, to be successful, the team must project a chemistry that suggests confidence, trust, and understanding between themselves.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Thomas McGreal is a Certified Forensic Interviewer, employed by Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates as a Speaker/Consultant. Thomas was previously employed by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office as an investigator, assigned to the Post Conviction Unit. Thomas was also employed by the Chicago Police Department, assigned to the Detective Division.
Joanne Ryan is a Certified Forensic Interviewer, employed by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office as an investigator. Joanne is currently assigned to the Human Trafficking Unit. Joanne is detailed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Crimes Against Children’s Task Force. Joanne Ryan was previously employed as an investigator in the Cook County Adult Probation Department.