The whole truth: investigative interview best practice

by Caitlin Nobes20 Mar 2013

When accusations start flying around the workplace, it’s important to take them seriously and address the problem efficiently, which often requires talking to all the parties. However, in cases of conflict either party could be motivated to twist the truth, or to try to whitewash their own involvement. How can HR gather the information they need?

In most cases the information gathered from interviewing will make up the majority of a case, so it’s important to get it right and be well prepared.

“Make sure you’re prepared for your interview, that you know the questions you need to ask and the information you need to obtain and that you’re documenting the information you’re getting accurately and completely,” Dean Benard, CEO of conflict resolution company Benard Inc., said. “It’s not good enough to say ‘Tell me your story’. You need to be prepared to look at their answers with a critical eye and be prepared to challenge the parties.”

Benard stresses not to be confrontational; it’s important to stay calm throughout the interview. Ask for clarification and tell them you’re getting conflicting information without specifying what that information is.

A key step is to determine whether you and your team are unbiased. If the investigation is being handled internally it’s likely the interviewer will know the HR pro, or at least have connections in common.

“As the investigator your job is to be completely neutral, unbiased and objective and if you can’t achieve that then you probably shouldn’t be doing the investigation,” Benard said. Consider carefully whether an internal investigation is the best option, and ensure you keep detailed and accurate information.

It might take more than one interview with each party to build a complete picture, so try to maintain a rapport without expressing support one way or the other.

Benard’s tips for interviewing:

  1. Build rapport
    Interview subjects will cooperate and be more useful when they are relaxed and comfortable with the interviewer.

  2. General to specific
    Start with open questions and ask the employee to tell the story in full, before working your way towards more specific questions.

  3. Give context
    Help subjects out with reference points and information to all them to put situations and events into past context.

  4. Avoid inappropriate questions
    Do not ask leading questions or questions that imply the answer.

  5. Don’t coerce or threaten
    When interviewing someone, avoid threats or promises. Frightening someone into providing information will not help your case or organisation in the long run.

  6. Stay calm
    Getting angry or losing your cool won’t help you gather information – it  will only alienate your subject.


  • by Peter McLean 20/03/2013 6:28:28 PM

    As a HR Professional I have seen too many supervisors or dept managers try and sort out conflict in their own departments. They have taken an avoidance of HR approach, because previously HR have taken a far tougher stance than they would have.
    I have found that interviewing with the supervisor and then determining appropriate action with the supervisor involvement, gives them buy in and eventually ownership of the outcome.
    Stick with the facts and only the facts and you won't go wrong.

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