From the Contributor’s Corner: Tips On Location and Setting for Investigation Interviews

Regardless of whether you are conducting a debriefing of a complainant, interviewing a witness, or confronting a subject in an interrogation, it is important to prepare for the encounter. In planning the investigation or inquiry, determining the place of interview can be an important consideration.  In some cases, the location is critical, as in the case of “subject interviews.” For professional investigators, deciding on a place, setting, and conditions for an interview is an automatic process. The techniques and procedures routinely followed by professional investigators are done automatically, without any special thought. However, most people conducting compliance or internal investigations have little or no professional background.  For the amateur, these tools must be learned.  Certainly, the simple but important decision about where to conduct an interview is among the lessons to be learned.

Determining the location and setting of the interview is important. The object is to create privacy and eliminate any possible interruptions or distractions.   If possible, it should occur away from any traffic or other distracting influences, or where others may observe what is occurring.  This could reduce the level of cooperation needed from the individual. Preferably, the interview should be conducted away from the person’s normal area of business.   Interviewing someone in his or her own office should be avoided, in that it invites interruptions or reasons why the person may have focus attention on other matters.  Also, psychologically, it gives the interviewee the advantage of being on his or her “own turf.”  As such, it can interfere with establishing the right relationship and rapport.  Serious consideration should be given before interviewing someone in his or her own home.  In fact, interviews should not be conducted there without over-riding considerations.  Interviewing someone away from his or her own area provides the investigator with an advantage.

The following are some tips and considerations in deciding upon the interview location and setting:

  1. Privacy The fewer the people in the room, the better the results;
  2. Quiet Don’t allow external sounds or outsiders to hear;
  3. Room Size The room should be small enough to convey intimacy;
  4. Well Lighted This permits closer observation of individual;
  5. Plain It is important to avoid distractions (e.g. window, pictures, etc.);
  6. Telephone Shut if off to avoid incoming calls;
  7. Furniture Allowing furniture in between the interviewer and the interviewee creates a barrier to rapport;
  8. Chairs The interviewer should sit directly across from interviewee;
  9. Positioning Avoid allowing the interviewee to be able to look out a window and not at the interviewer.

It is recognized that there are practical considerations that may necessitate compromising on some of these considerations.  Also, it is reasonable to consider the fact that most interviews will be of persons who are witnesses or who provide limited amounts of information.  As such, many of these tips may not be necessary.  In other cases, the person to be interviewed may be the accused wrongdoer and applying these techniques and considerations take on greater importance. 

Richard Kusserow, served as the DHHS Inspector General for 11 years with prior services in the FBI.  He is the author of Conducting Internal Investigations in Health Care Organizations, AIS, 2011 (ISBN 979-1-936230-60-8). He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services and can be reached at (703) 535-1411.

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Copyright © 2013 Strategic Management Services, LLC.  Published with permission.