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Can you be the investigator and the hero?

Posted on by Cheryl-Anne Laird

In my last blog I explored the issue of managing emotional responses from interviewees in investigations. Hopefully it provided you with some useful information to make life a little easier when you find yourself interviewing in such circumstances.

But, even with those helpful tips, the reality is that we, the investigators, can also be emotionally and psychologically affected by our experiences in investigations. Investigators, or at least the good ones, are independent players in the drama that is a workplace investigation.  Investigations however don’t occur in a vacuum, they occur in real life to real people. Personally, I have never been involved in an investigation where at least one party (and often more than one) have not shared with me their distress at being part of such a process, their fears that there may be repercussions from their involvement in the process and the potential personal and professional consequences which may occur for them, subject to my findings.

In some instances I experience such expression of emotion as potentially manipulative, that is, they are seeking to influence my findings by having me feel sorry for them, or by taking matters into consideration which are not relevant to the making of objective findings. This makes me angry when I feel my independence is being challenged in such a way. But more often, I experience such expression of emotion as genuine fear, anger or dismay at how they came to find themselves in a meeting room with someone like me – an investigator. In telling their story, be it as a complainant, witness or respondent, they will often share the impact of that story on their professional life and their personal life. The effects of workplace disharmony, no matter what form it may take, can have catastrophic effects on people, their careers and yes, even their personal lives.  As an investigator, you have probably had at least one occasion when a respondent openly admitted to the alleged conduct, only to dissolve into despair about how stupid they were and how this one error has “ruined their lives”. This may or may not be the reality of the situation, but at the time it is the reality of the individual.

So is it your job, as the investigator, to pick up the pieces in such situations and take on the responsibility of “looking after” the interviewee? If your answer to that question is yes, then you are at risk. If you do this once, you are most likely to do it again and again. This cannot reasonably be the responsibility of the investigator. How is this independent or uninvolved, both of which are hallmarks of a good investigator. But, I hear you ask, if I don’t do it then who will? That is a very good question.

Self care for an investigator, in my view, should include a strategy for the deflection of such imposed emotions.  I am not suggesting that you become disinterested or cold, to the contrary, I am suggesting that prior to commencing an investigation you establish an agreement with the person who engaged you to do the investigation how such issues will be managed. Will they be referred to the EAP for example, and if so do you have the contact details to share, will they be referred to HR and if so, who will be the contact.

In those hopefully rare situations where an aggressive or angry response is anticipated, do you have a strategy for anger management? Have you thought about how to safely exit the interview room if emotions become high, do you have a 3rd party ready to assist – if needed? Prior preparation in such situations is self care. It is better to prepare and not need the strategies than to wish you had such a strategy when it is too late to put one in place.

Finally, and probably the situation which places investigators at most risk of emotional harm is that interviewee who threatens self harm. This is a tough one as most investigators are not also psychologists or medical practitioners and therefore don’t have the skills or experience.

If you have any suggestions on self care that works for you, please feel free to share them.

Written by Cheryl-Anne Laird

Cheryl-Anne Laird

Cheryl-Anne has positioned herself as a confident and trusted advisor. Cheryl-Anne has built an enviable reputation for her energy and commitment to quality and value. She believes passionately that building strong long term relationships, and becoming part of the issue resolution process, is the best path to excellent client outcomes. Beyond work, Cheryl-Anne loves to travel, enjoys reading, live theatre, trying new restaurants and spending quality time with friends and family.

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