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Motivation v. Manipulation

Watch any cop show on TV and eventually you will see the following scene: A suspect sits alone in a dark, dank interview room. The cop enters and the testosterone is oozing from every pore of his body. Cop asks bad guy a few direct pointed questions to which bad guy responds with lies. Cop raises his voice and intimidates bad guy with (insert your favorite threat here) prison, physical violence, loss of freedom, embarrassment, humiliation.

Fortunately, this is the impression most of our interview subjects have of us. So when they are met with a interviewer who is non-judgmental, understanding, and exhibits exceptional listening skills, they are caught off guard. Some interviewers are naturally good at this and others are not. So what secret do the successful possess?

Arguably the most essential ingredient to any effective interview is rapport. Rapport, as we’ve discussed extensively in previous tips, means establishing a relationship with someone; agreement, harmony. Getting people to talk to us (especially when they are very much inclined not to want to talk to us) is simply a matter of motivating them to want to do so.

The following are some examples of typical ways to motivate people to talk to us:

  • Be non-judgmental
  • Be an active listener
  • Project an image of open mindedness about his/her involvement in the crime
  • Express empathy for the subject’s situation in life
  • Build trust by paraphrasing what the subject is telling you
  • Create an environment that suggests it’s “us” (you and the subject), against the system (not you against the subject)
  • Provide positive feedback and encouragement, especially for truthfulness

The ultimate goal of any interview is to earn the subject’s trust. Once you’ve earned their trust, it will be easier to to motivate them to tell you, “Nothing But The truth.”

Remember this too – an interviewer who chooses manipulation over motivation risks not only losing a criminal case in court, but subjects himself to civil liability as well.

Paul & Enrique have been team teaching Interviewing & Interrogation together since 1997. They are the principals of Third Degree Communications, Inc.

  • This training provided the useful tools necessary for assessing the veracity of a suspected child abuser, which goes a long way in helping to protect children.

    —Sunny Burgan, MSSW, LCSW, Social Work Supervisor, Santa Clara County DFCS
  • I highly recommend this training for any Probation staff who have the necessity to interview/interrogate individuals for investigation purposes.

    —R. Bret Fidler, Santa Clara County Probation Department
  • Your training has made the greatest and most direct impact on my assignment of any training class that I've taken.

    —Ken Gelskey, National City Police Department
  • The information presented was highly relevant to my job and was presented in a manner that was organized and very easy to digest.

    —Michael McGarvey, California State Prison, San Quentin
  • I will continue to use and pass on this information because I really believe in the instructors and their approach.

    —Kimberly Meyer, Washoe County Sheriff's Department
  • This was, by far, one of the most useful training classes I've attended since becoming an investigator.

    —Steven Aiello, Antioch Police Department
  • Effective teaching teams! The presentation of the material was consistently interesting, and intelligent without being too intellectualized.

    —Michele Keller, Deputy Probation Officer, County of Alameda
  • Instructional style is engaging and highly effective.

    —George Laing, Fire Prevention Captain, Investigator
  • Your training gave me the confidence and tools to interview the suspect for over 5 hours and to bring a closure to the case.

    —Daniel Phelan, San Jose Police Department