Kusserow on Compliance: Free Webinar! Conducting Internal Investigation Interviews—Some Best Practices and Tips

Wolters Kluwer is hosting a complimentary webinar on January 26, 2017, entitled, “Best Practices for Conducting Internal Investigations.” The presenters are Richard P. Kusserow, former FBI executive and HHS Inspector General, and Kashish Chopra, JD. Both have extensive experience with conducting internal investigations. Today’s blog provides some tips on the most critical part of most investigations; conducting witness interview. This subject will be provided in more depth during the webinar.

Always project a professional image

This begins with how one is attired. An interview is a formal business meeting and those conducting them should dress accordingly. Dressing down in jeans or other casual clothing does not project a professional image. Those interviewed are not friends; and therefore investigators should not dress and act as if they were. The demeanor of interviewer is important to outcome of interview. If interviewer appears quietly competent and professional, it will encourage confidence in the individual being interviewed. It also reduces nervousness in innocent parties, increases nervousness in guilty ones. The manner should always be polite but firm. Cooperation is essential; intimidation is counter-productive and possibly disastrous in outcome. Treat those interviewed with dignity, respect, and courtesy; and avoid use of any investigative jargon or slang

Begin with why the person is being interviewed

Identify self and any others participating in the interview and explain the purpose of the investigation, along with the authority to conduct inquiry. Make it clear they have a duty to provide complete and accurate facts and explain their comments will be kept confidential to the degree possible

Take time to establish rapport

This is critical to the result of the interview. Beginning an interview with five or ten minutes of easy conversation has the advantage of reducing tension and increases better communication and cooperation. It also permits the investigator to observe the person and their behavioral patterns during this initial more relaxed discourse that often proves very valuable when assessing responses when questioning begins addressing more serious issue areas. Any rapport established can be easily lost by careless use of terms or phrases that may evoke negative connotations, or cause the person to become more defensive and less cooperative.

Best way to have a productive interview is to do one’s homework in advance

This means (a) knowing the objectives of the investigation; (2) having an investigative plan to achieve those objectives; (3) identifying facts needed to properly understand and assess the issues; and (4) what the person being interviewed may offer in terms of facts. It is useful to prepare the key points to be covered for use as a guide, but just going down a list of questions is a bad practice, as it turns the interview into something more akin to an interrogation. Use open-ended questions and allow the person to speak. Often they will cover many of the points on your guide in their discourse. At the end of the interview, review the guide to see if all the points were covered”.

Keep control of the interview by asking, not answering, questions

The interviewer is not the dispenser of information and, as such, they should not reveal the status of the work; offer opinions; indicate what has been found so far; or what has been said by others. Offer no opinions relating to the investigation. Losing sight of that principle often leads to losing control of the interview and is one of the major causes of bad outcomes in the process.

Always remember the interview purpose is to establish facts

It is critical that the investigator remain at all times focused on facts. It is common to have those being interviewed to drift off of facts, especially if they are uncomfortable with the direction of the interview. Therefore, always follow through on questions asked and not be diverted by other comments. Ensure basic questions such as who, what, where, when, how, and why have been addressed. Keep the questions simple and direct, avoiding compound sentences. Ask open-ended questions and allow the person to fully answer.

Take notes, discreetly

It is important to maintain the interview as much like a conversation as possible. Losing eye contact can throw the interview off and detract from results. As such, although it is critical to take notes throughout the interview, it should be done as discreetly as possible. This means writing only key words and phrases that can be filled out after the interview is over. Taking copious notes and losing eye contact risk turning the interview into something that may appear to the individual as an interrogation and makes individuals tighten up and be less forthright in their comments.

Click here to register.

Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

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Copyright © 2017 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.