As a loss prevention professional, chances are that you conduct internal theft interviews. Furthermore, it’s probably the skill that impresses our business partners the most. You’ve no doubt been told several times that a particular person would not admit, only to have a written statement within an hour. These admissions can amaze business partners, as if you just performed a magic trick. Most departments invest in formal training in order to hone this LP investigation skill. As a loss prevention professional, it’s a skill that may be a prerequisite to some positions. A seasoned interviewer typically has a high degree of success in obtaining admissions. However, sometimes they don’t admit. Why?
This is a question that Wicklander-Zulawski has examined extensively. Using numerous interviews and research, they have concluded that the overriding criteria whether a person will admit is based upon that person believing that there is enough evidence to demonstrate that they committed whatever act is being investigated. Said another way…they believe that they have been caught. I don’t think you would find many that would disagree with that statement. There would be no real incentive in admitting to something unless there was a belief that the evidence would lead most people to conclude that the person did commit the act. At a certain point, a decision has to be made between becoming a liar and admitting guilt. If guilt is clear, the accused stands to gain more sympathy for an admission than continuing to lie. This could explain why people were so outraged at Pete Rose’s continued denial of sports betting.
While this may explain how a person arrives at the decision to admit, it doesn’t necessarily answer the question as to why they believe that they have been caught. In some cases, evidence may be presented that demonstrates a tangible reason for the admission. However, many interviews do not include evidence during the interview, which begs the question as to what convinced the person to admit. Rationalization helps someone save face during the admission, but does not satisfy the belief that the person has been caught. Skilled interviewers evaluate behavior and responses to gather information that they were not previously aware of. The act of observing behavior in order to get to the right questions may be enough to convince someone that they have been caught.
However, the confidence of an investigator may be the most important component in obtaining an admission. In an LP investigation where evidence is not presented, the person being interviewed has very little information to use. Confidence of the investigator may be the difference-maker. Most would agree that confidence plays a role in many things, from dating to going for a job interview. It may be just as important in conducting internal theft interviews. However, the concept of confidence is abstract. There is not a device to measure it—we just feel it.
There are many schools of thought on the subject of confidence. Some believe that we use body language in order to communicate subconsciously with each other. There are also instances in which we are consciously aware of body language. As mentioned above, there are physical indicators that we are aware of that are useful in making certain determinations. However, some believe there is also a subconscious component to body language. Malcolm Gladwell, an English-Canadian journalist, bestselling author, and speaker wrote about the phenomenon in his book titled Blink. Gladwell noted several examples in which certain people were able to come to conclusions but not be able to explain how they arrived at those conclusions—they just knew. Some would argue that these people are subconsciously picking up on behavior that they are not aware of, allowing them to make accurate conclusions.
Body language is widely accepted, and the idea that we could subconsciously collect information is not far-fetched. However, some scientists are convinced that there is an interconnectedness that extends beyond body language. Rupert Sheldrake, an English author, lecturer, and researcher in the field of parapsychology, has been conducting experiments of this type of phenomenon for years. In one study, he claims to have proven that people become aware of being stared at from behind. Without any other knowledge, these subjects were able to predict when they were being looked at by another person. Without any other information, this should not be possible. Quantum physicist Amit Goswami has conducted experiments to scientifically demonstrate interconnectedness between people, which he believes quantum physics play a role in. While interesting, there is no scientific consensus on any of these theories.
As loss prevention professionals, it may not be important to understand how we communicate confidence, but we may benefit from understanding when we communicate confidence. In some cases, the evidence is very convincing, but an admission is not obtained. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the interviewer would be more confident. Perhaps this flies in the face of the confidence theory. However, there may be times in which the evidence is clear, but the investigator is not communicating confidence. During the LP investigation, confidence is usually discouraged. This allows the investigator to stay objective during the investigation. Too much confidence during an LP investigation could result in “blinders” causing the investigator to only look for evidence that supports guilt and ignore evidence-supporting innocence. You may have heard the imperative to “prove innocence” during an investigation. This is a great rule of thumb to stay objective during an investigation, but it does not allow for any confidence. Thus, there may not be a transition from objective investigator to confident interviewer, even in times when the evidence is clear.
If confidence is an important factor in successful internal theft interviews, the dichotomy of the investigation and interview may need to be addressed. A thorough and objective LP investigation can instill confidence; therefore once the transition is made from investigation to interview, it may be helpful to consciously be aware that the investigation clearly demonstrates what occurred. At this point, it’s acceptable to allow confidence to play a part. This transition may reduce the amount of denials in internal theft interviews, allowing the interviewer to obtain an admission and the employee to save face.
This article was originally published in 2014 and was updated October 23, 2016.