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It’s All About Context, Part 4

The non-confrontational monologue delivered by the investigator has an evolving context between the guilty party and the investigator. The context changes significantly from sharing the opening biographical information to the discussion of how investigations are conducted. As the guilty subject listens to the investigator’s monologue, he or she is incrementally moved through reducing resistance to making an admission. This is all done in a collaborative non-confrontational way that allows the subject to preserve their self-image even in light of their 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 because they have done nothing wrong.

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 conclusion whether or not their dishonesty has been discovered. In allowing the guilty party to come to their own conclusion, 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 non-confrontational interview where the investigator shows understanding for the subject’s plight and offers reasons and excuses that reframe the seriousness of the incident and preserve the subject’s self-image.

Showing Understanding

As the interviewer enters the showing-understanding portion of the non-confrontational interview, there is another shift in the context of the conversation. In most cases the subject has come to the conclusion that he or she been caught but has not been forced to take a position that must be protected. As the interviewer moves into showing understanding, the subject is generally uncertain what to do and is evaluating what the interviewer is saying. There is also likely some confusion as the subject searches for a way out of the situation.

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The interviewer uses stories as a metaphor, which helps the subject formulate a direction and potential strategy to handle the situation. The stories used by the interviewer involve social proof establishing how others handle certain difficult situations. While most people like to think of themselves as independent free spirits paving their own road, it is actually quite the opposite. When most people are uncertain as to what they should do in a situation, they actually seek validation of their decision in the acts of others. How are other people handling a difficult situation?

In essence, the human creature is a herd animal following the group when there is uncertainty. We watch the same movies. We dress in the same fashions. We go to the same restaurants. Effectively, we follow the crowd.

The presentation of showing understanding to the subject reinforces the feeling that the interviewer is not an opponent but simply trying to understand the reasons why something has happened.

The opening of showing understanding involves a presentation of a number of basic rationalizations by the interviewer that fit the background of the subject and plausibly could have been the reason the individual made the decision to commit a crime. These very basic rationalizations allow the interviewer to open the subject’s mind to the world of possible justifications for his or her actions and to test their applicability. The context at this point is a subject looking for direction that can be taken of one’s own free will without being told what to do. Certainly, the subject is also still suspicious of the interviewer’s motives and is carefully evaluating everything that is said.

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The choice of the first rationalization provides a continuation of the rapport building while offering the subject a way to potentially shield their self-image. The subject, recognizing that he or she has been caught, is now looking for a way to salvage an untenable situation. If he were to confess prior to the showing-understanding portion, he must admit that he was involved in the incident and is a bad person. The process of showing understanding provides a context whereby the subject can put a positive spin on his circumstances to make him look and feel better.

The first rationalization is selected based on the background of the individual and clearly could be the likely reason the subject became involved in the incident. The interviewer presents a story revolving around a rationalization that is the reason or likely reason the person made the error in judgment. While the story has little appeal to an innocent party, the guilty evaluate it in an entirely different context since they are searching for a way to relieve their guilt and/or make themselves look better.

As later rationalizations are presented, the stories begin to align with the subject’s background more closely. For example, if a young male had just gotten his first apartment, the initial story could revolve around the financial implications of starting one’s first home. Everything has to be purchased new. There’s no salt or pepper, plastic bags, or food in the refrigerator. There’s no broom or wastebasket. Here the interviewer recognizes the financial burden of starting a new home and the financial pressure that puts on people. The story mimics the situation that the subject finds himself in, but that alone does not provide the full context of why he made the decision to commit the crime.

The next rationalization brings the situation full-circle by changing the story to revolve around peer pressure. The young man who has just rented his first apartment and is for the first time fully realizing the financial implications is approached by someone else who can alleviate the subject’s money problems.

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The subject’s view of the preceding conversation fits neatly with his need to find a way out that reasonably explains his becoming involved in the crime. His financial needs coupled with the peer pressure of the other person who could provide the additional money that was necessary to get him out of his shortfall.

The context has now changed again. The subject came to the conclusion that his guilt was known and now he has found a plausible explanation why he did what he did. Now the subject reevaluates the interviewer and re-examines the initial suspicions that he had of the interviewer.

To handle this, the interviewer must now address the subject’s suspicions and remaining fear of consequences and create an urgency to make a decision. These lingering questions in the mind of the subject must be handled, or they will re-initiate a resistance against making an admission.

Probably the strongest question remaining unanswered is why the investigator has not presented the evidence linking the subject to the incident. If this is unanswered, the subject’s context reverts to suspicion, which will foster resistance. The interviewer must handle this suspicion by changing the context of the conversation of evidence to one that would put the individual into a bad light. Effectively, the interviewer argues that giving up the investigation’s evidence would jeopardize how the subject was viewed by others.

Once these final unspoken questions have been resolved in the subject’s mind, the context again changes to resignation of his situation. The interviewer tests for submission with a statement such as, “The problem is, we don’t know what difficulties you face in your life.” Generally, the subject at this point in the interview responds with a nonverbal cue like a nod of the head to offer tacit agreement that both he and the interviewer are in agreement to talk about the situation. Since there is agreement between the parties, it is appropriate for the interviewer to use an assumptive question to begin the conversation. Because the subject has not denied anything up to this point and has tacitly communicated his agreement, the assumptive question provides an excellent starting point for the conversation to develop the admission.

The development component of the interview takes on the context of collaboration as the interviewer and subject work together to develop the totality of the subject’s involvement in the incident(s) under investigation. This is not to say the subject might not use some measure of concealment to protect incidents he believes may not have been discovered as yet.

In any conversation, in or outside of an interview room, there may be an underlying change in the context between the individuals speaking as the conversation evolves. The prudent interviewer tries to establish what that context is so that the words and physical behavior may have more meaning and give greater breath to the conversation.

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