When are you done?

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“When are you done?”

This question often comes up both when I’m training and investigating. And yes, this question sometimes rattles around in my mind as I consider a case.

My latest technique to help answer this question involves starting with the final report. When concluding interviews and finalizing statements, I like to start building the Evidence Compilation. The Evidence Compilation helps me visualize the data collected to date. With this data, I can start seeing holes. The earlier, the better, because a hole seen is a hole repaired – at least it should be!

As you near the end of your interviews, you should have a nearly complete Evidence Compilation. At this point, go ahead and start the report. Make potential conclusions as you go. If something is obviously a breach, go ahead. If something is irrelevant or not in scope, label it. 

Now, when reading through a section, you may have questions that pop up in your mind. Or, you may sense that you’re going out on a limb or stretching to find the proper conclusive wording.

When this comes up, I’d suggest a couple of strategies:

  1. Take a break, grab a coffee and come back to it later. Maybe it’s just brain fatigue.
  2. If a break does not work, look for opportunities to double or triple-check what individuals have shared. Look for the essence paragraph – is the essence covered? Are there holes? Is someone’s name mentioned and you didn’t interview them? Is there a hole in what the complainant or respondent said?

In my experience, if I’m having trouble writing a conclusion, what’s usually required is a redirect question aimed at one of the parties. Redirect questions will help fill holes and lead you toward a firm conclusion.


What’s the difference?

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I was out to dinner with a lovely group of friends who have attended my training, both years ago and as recently as this week and I was asked, “What’s the difference between level 1, 2, and 3?”

The person who asked had not attended any of the training and the rest of the table had various levels completed. I have been asked this question before and usually provide some details that I think people will find relevant as an easy way to differentiate. I have also thought about the question and how to answer it better for people. Here is my attempt today.

Level One of our Harassment Investigation course begins an introduction into a methodology and a mindset. I have structured the class (and all the other levels) to begin with a base of theory. We then transition into the practice of doing, something I feel provides the strongest insights and learnings. In our classes, you will be greeted (confronted?) by a variety of professional actors, playing various types of personalities common in investigation work. The cases we train on are the cases we have worked on, no make believe here. Once we have “done”, we analyze, discuss and learn best practices. Templates and ideas abound as I draw the three-day level one to a close.

Level Two comes only for those who have attended Level One. My workshops are fast-paced, and this two-day program does not have time to introduce the methodology and mindset. We jump into another true case, this time in the middle. We prepare tools we introduced in Level One, including an essence paragraph (my personal fave), and a detailed list of “Things we want to know”. Note this is not a list of verbatim questions. I challenge the group to interview professional actors with a conversational approach, with an eye to the subtleties of witness reactions, and discussion on how to develop multiple interview strategies. Yes, there’s homework, you’re welcome! Day two of this class brings us to the business of a re-direct interview. You will see the complainant and respondent at the end of the case, and we expand on the principles and strategies for the end of the investigation.

Level Three is our latest offering, and we have yet another case – this time reflecting some of the current trends we see emerging. Again, you are asked to prepare for interviews. This time, I have also prepared and we will compare lists and talk about refining preparation. Like Sarge always said: “Proper Preparation and Planning Prevent Poor Performance”. We interview multiple parties and have access to evidence. The final day is spent preparing a final report, and defending your reasoning and decision-making to yet another professional actor, this time playing your supervisor.

That’s the bones of it. As I was formulating my answer last night it struck me that we move down levels of complexity, and subtlety both with ourselves and the people we interview. In my opinion, almost anyone can interview someone they understand and “vibe” with, it is entirely another level to interview someone who does not share your sensibilities, successfully, so that they feel heard and know that the process was a fair one. This is what I’m trying to get at.

Hope to see you around the way,


Witness Reluctance

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If you conduct investigations or even if you are seeking information in the workplace, you will undoubtedly run into a scenario where the people you are talking to have information but are reluctant to share it with you. Let me share one tool I use to help in this situation.

Some background: I have conducted thousands of interviews over the past 25ish years. I have never met the people involved until we sit down to speak. Most folks do not really want to share what they know – for a variety of reasons.

The technique: As we get into a topic, I will conduct a free-flowing conversation with the person, and avoid any direct, specific questions, especially if I am feeling a reluctance and overall discomfort. I will attempt to get into a pattern of communication where they are speaking, and I am speaking, and there is a flow to the conversation. The details of the conversation will vary, but the feeling is what I am after. Is this what a normal everyday conversation feels like? Perfect.

The next step: As I broach a specific area of interest and they begin to relate some basics, I follow the conversation, rather than starting with a direct or abrupt: “Who said that”. I will ask followup questions to what they have already told me, building the detail as we go, as a natural extension of the conversation. Only when that is done will I circle back and ask for names.

The benefits: Worst case scenario, we get the details of what happened and maybe not the names or other more specific information. We have something to go on. Also, we do not completely stall the conversation by being too direct at first, and creating a more uncomfortable conversation with the person.

Let’s face it, many employees want nothing to do with an investigation and an interview. Our job, when done well, is creating a more comfortable space for people, and you get a long way down that road by paying attention to how people like to talk and when they feel comfortable.

Join me for a training event, or drop me a line, I’m always open to discussion!

  • Dylan