In our last two columns, we discussed how context matters in conversations and the questions that are appropriate to ask. In part two, we began the discussion of context and questions as they relate to the beginning of an admission-seeking interview. In this third part, we will look at the introductory statement as the context changes for the subject and the interviewer.
The Interviewer’s Introductory Statement
The beginning of the introductory statement transitions the context of the conversation from eliciting information about the subject’s life and interests to a discussion about the interviewer’s job and responsibilities. To a large extent the transition of the discussion to center around the interviewer’s role in an investigation is controlled by reciprocity. Reciprocity simply means a change in obligation. For example, if one is invited out to dinner there is an expectation that at some point the invitee reciprocate the invitation of the inviter. Simply stated, if I buy you dinner there’s an expectation you buy me dinner. Reciprocity is a cross-cultural, cross-gender, cross-geographic human characteristic making it applicable to almost everyone.
The subject has had a chance to talk during the development of rapport and now is expected to listen while the interviewer discusses his or her job and interests. So essentially the context of the conversation has become an obligation where the subject should politely listen in the same way that the interviewer has done previously. However, as the interviewer begins to describe herself and what she does for a job, there is a subtext applicable only to the guilty party who now interprets the interviewer’s words in light of criminal activity.
What starts out as a simple description of what the interviewer does for a living quickly turns into a somewhat disquieting conversation for the guilty. The interviewer describes their job and introduces the idea of employees stealing or other criminal behavior. An innocent individual does not understand the subtext and views the conversation as an interesting disclosure of what an investigator does. However, a guilty party views the same words as an indication that their dishonest behavior has been discovered.
In the next part of the introductory statement, the interviewer describes different forms of dishonesty that they are responsible for investigating. The context for an innocent person is non-stressful and merely revolves around an interesting discussion of the ways criminals commit crimes. The guilty party listens carefully wondering when and if their method of theft or criminal activity will be listed in the discussion. For example, when the method of theft the subject is using is presented, there is often a behavioral response reflecting the potential threat this discovery may have on the guilty person’s future.
The third part of the introductory statement is a discussion of how investigations are conducted. Again, the innocent party reacts with interest since they have no fear of detection or discovery because they have done nothing wrong. The guilty party listens to the discussion of how investigations are conducted with a sense of fear that the interviewer knows of their dishonesty. At the conclusion of these three parts, the guilty party often comes to the conclusion that their guilt is known. Psychologically and physiologically the deceptive individual is rocked by the realization that they are about to have to face what they have done.
So the same words presented to an innocent and a dishonest individual provide an entirely different context to the discussion. The introductory statement’s words and message have no effect on innocent subjects because they have done nothing wrong and therefore have nothing to fear. Guilty parties find themselves in an entirely different mental state and context.
No Opportunity for Denial
The interviewer has not directly accused the guilty party of doing anything, which makes it difficult for that subject to mount a defense using denial. The context set up by the interviewer is a non-confrontational approach that makes it difficult for the guilty subject to engage in any type of aggressive or denial behavior because the interviewer has not made any direct statements or accusations. Essentially, the first three parts of the introductory statement convey the message to the guilty that their dishonesty has been uncovered, but provides no opportunity for them to attempt a defense.
Instead, the context created by the interviewer does several things in a very powerful fashion. First, the introductory statement brings the guilty to the logical conclusion that their guilt is known without producing evidence or making any direct accusation to the individual. This is incredibly important since one of the primary reasons people ultimately confess is that they believe their guilt is known.
The guilty subject desperately wants to know what the investigation has revealed and what evidence exists that indicates their involvement. The interviewer uses the context of the conversation to speak in generalities allowing the guilty subject to expand the evidence in their own mind. Ambiguity in the discussion of evidence creates a context where it is easy for the guilty party to apply the message to their own actions.
A spiritualist often uses ambiguity to allow an audience to believe the statements apply to their own lives as in the following example.
“I see that you have suffered a loss and this loss still troubles you today.”
“My father passed away a number of years ago.”
“I sense there were things left unsaid between you and he.”
“Well, I wished we had more time at the end.”
“Your father is here, and he says he feels the same way.”
The interviewer, even if they have specific evidence indicative of the subject’s guilt, can withhold these specifics and allow the context of the conversation and the ambiguity of their words to let the subject come to their own conclusion about what is known. The interviewer can observe the guilty party’s behavior and be relatively certain the person believes he or she is caught. However, what the subject believes is known may be entirely different than the evidence held by the investigator.
Creating a non-confrontational context at the beginning of an admission-seeking interview also avoids an adversarial relationship between the investigator and the subject. Academic researchers recently explored the planning done by guilty parties in anticipation of an interview. About 20 percent of the guilty individuals planned to enter the interview and deny any involvement in the alleged incident. However, the non-confrontational approach does not provide a context where it is easy for them to deny their guilt because there is never a direct accusation nor an overt indirect accusation that allows them to do so.
The remaining 80 percent of the guilty parties plan to do one of two things—admit their guilt or wait and see what the investigator was going to do or say. The non-confrontational context established by the investigator fits perfectly with this remaining 80 percent as well. It provides a context that allows guilty subjects to come to the conclusion that they are caught, but allows the interviewer an opportunity to show understanding, which preserves the personÕs self-image. This encourages the percentage of guilty who are predisposed to confess to maintain that position while at the same time not doing anything to make the investigator reveal their overall strategy to the subject.
Moving Toward Admission
Essentially, the context provided by the first three parts of the introductory statement creates a collaborative environment where the guilty can come to their own conclusions whether or not their dishonesty has been discovered. In allowing the guilty to come to their own conclusions, it prevents them from seeing the investigator as an opponent and someone to be challenged. This sets the stage for the next part of the admission-seeking interview where the investigator shows understanding for the subject’s plight and offers reasons and excuses that mitigate the seriousness of the incident and preserve the subject’s self-image.
In part four of this discussion in the next issue, we will continue to explain the evolving context of the conversation between the guilty party and the investigator. This is a complex exchange that occurs primarily during the investigator’s monologue, which moves the guilty subject incrementally through the process reducing resistance to making an admission. This is all done in a collaborative non-confrontational way that allows subjects to preserve their self-image even in light of participation in criminal acts.
The key in the introductory statement is developing a context where the individual can come to their own conclusion about whether or not their guilt is known. In addition, if the same words are said to an innocent person, these words have no effect on the innocent because they have no fear of discovery.