Less is More: Framing Questions to Maximize Data Collection

Part Six in our Ten-Part Series on Investigation Blunders to Avoid

In the first half of the year, we outlined some key overarching considerations to keep in mind during investigations.  Now, we start to delve into a bit more of the nuts and bolts of collecting and assessing data.  In most investigations, the main source of evidence will be witness interviews.  An important, maybe the most important, way to maximize reliable data during interviews is through framing good questions and getting out of the way.

The good news on this issue is that it requires a focus on less, on striving to remove yourself as much from the process as possible.  Your focus should not be on complicated and detailed questions, but rather on creating an environment where witnesses are invited and feel comfortable sharing.  The role of questions in this process is to act as prompts to ongoing sharing and not as signs pointing witnesses in certain directions.

In fact, the best “questions” are often not questions at all.  ‘Tell me more.’  ‘Help me understand ___________.’  These can be brought out over and over again in an interview.  In fact, silence often does the same work.  Simply providing some time and space between answers often will lead to witnesses continuing to share.  We all might feel pressure to fill those empty spaces.  Your job as an investigator is to let the witness succumb to that pressure, to keep talking, rather than for you to fill it.


Avoid the Following Investigation Blunders
In February we provided you with an overview of “Investigation Blunders” to avoid in 2020 (click here).  Over the rest of the year, we will be highlighting each in turn.

1.Not investigating “hearsay” or “rumor” or not investigating because the complainant asked you not to
2.Sitting on your hands
3.Prioritizing being done over being thorough
4.Failing to talk to comparators or former employees
5.Building a case instead of investigating a complaint with an open mind
6.Talking too much and/or closing off possible responses by using leading or accusatory questions
7.Not getting facts – letting the witness characterize events
8.Promising confidentiality
9.Checking your other senses – including common sense – at the door
10.Relying too much (or at all!) on “demeanor” evidence