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We are not alone – investigations can take a toll on all parties.

Posted on by Cheryl-Anne Laird

In my last blog I looked at some learnings from the international conference of the Association of Workplace Investigators (AWI) that I had the pleasure of speaking at in Los Angeles in early October.

One of those learnings was that all investigators, the world over, face the same challenge of managing emotions in investigations. Therefore, this blog looks to share some strategies that have worked for me in the past. I am the first to admit that what works for one person may not work for someone else, so I encourage anyone who reads this blog to share any other strategies found by them to be successful. This is one of those opportunities where the more information we can share, the more likely it is that we will all find a strategy or strategies that work for us.

In my experience, the most common emotional responses that investigators are required to manage are anger and distress. Both of these emotions, when being experienced by interviewees, can negatively impact on an investigator’s capacity to obtain a full and detailed record of events. Given it is the professional responsibility of an investigator to obtain the best evidence available, it becomes a professional responsibility of an investigator to find ways to minimise the impact of such emotions on the quality of  information collected.

So what have I found that works for me? 

In dealing with anger it is my experience that your best friends are facts and a dose of reality. When an interviewee is angry, this is usually accompanied by a reluctance to participate in the process. In such cases it is important to acknowledge and recognise their anger, but then counter it by explaining factually why participation in the process is necessary. Similarly, the consequence of not co-operating is that information the interviewer should be provided, whatever this may be, is not provided.  In most instances the primary consequence of a failure to fully co-operate in an investigative process is a risk that the truth will not come out. In my experience, this is usually a significant motivator for most complainants and witnesses. It has less success with the ‘guilty’ respondents, but is usually a game winner with the innocent ones. If the investigator remains calm and factually explains why the person is being interviewed and the consequences of them letting their anger prevent the truth from prevailing, in my experience the interviewee will come around. They may remain angry, but are much less likely to focus that anger on the investigator or the process and therefore be more participative and co-operative.

The other common emotional response is distress. This is often accompanied by tears and disbelief that they have become involved in such a process. My first tip is “don’t tell them to calm down”, nothing seems to get people riled up when they are upset after being told to calm down.  In my experience the more effective response is to acknowledge their distress and to slow down the process so that they can take time to “collect themselves”.  Personally, if I have an emotionally distressed interviewee, I would say something like, “It is OK to be upset, it is an upsetting process and not one that most people have any experience in.  Lets take it slowly and see how we go, we can stop for a break if you need it and you will likely feel better once we get through this part”.  Needless to say, having access to tissues is a necessity, it is not only thoughtful to do so, but it also sends a message that being upset is not an unusual part of the investigative process which may assist in reducing the embarrassment people often experience when they become emotionally distressed.

I hope the above tips work for you in dealing with emotional responses in investigations. I would love to hear what works for others.

Stay tuned for the final blog in this series. The final blog in this series will look at another challenge that is consistent across jurisdictions and countries. That is, the emotional toll that investigations may take on investigators themselves.

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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