Michael Johnson on Investigative Interviewing [Podcast]


By Adam Turteltaub

What should I ask when interviewing someone as a part of an investigation?  Where should I conduct the interview?  How do I know if the person I’m talking to is telling the truth?

According to Michael Johnson, CEO of Clear Law Institute, before you ask all that, start by thinking about the report that you are going to have to write at the end.  Think about the questions you will have to answer and evidence you will need.  That way you can better ensure that the investigation stays on track.

If you want to know who’s lying to you, don’t rely on visual clues.  Research has found that behaviors people tend to associate with lies – avoiding eye contact, jitters – are actually signs of nervousness, not prevarication.  Instead, he advises in this podcast, the best way to know if someone is telling the truth is to listen to what they say.

When it comes to the issue of what to ask, here, too, he advises listening.  While having questions ready is essential, too often investigators are more focused on getting their questions asked than in listening to what the person has to say or encouraging the witness to tell the full story.  As he explains, the technique of using cognitive interviews, which encourages people to talk more freely and look at what happened from multiple sides, can be much more effective than going down a laundry list of questions.

And, no matter how you conduct an interview, think carefully about where you conduct it.  You don’t want it in a glass conference room with other employees walking by.

Listen in to this podcast to learn more about, well, learning more during an investigative interview.