The whole truth: investigative interview best practice

It’s hard to find out the truth about workplace allegations if your interviewing skills aren’t up to scratch

The whole truth: investigative interview best practice
Most HR professionals don’t have Sherlock Holmes’ deductive skills, so it’s hard to find out the truth about workplace allegations if your interviewing skills aren’t up to scratch.

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 allow 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 organization 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.


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