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

Unresolved Conflict

Conflicts will continue to occur in our working lives. Let’s arm employees with the tools to resolve them before they fester into an investigation.

When unresolved conflicts continue to fester and grow, they fill the ones in dispute with hard feelings of hopelessness, anger, resentment or outrage, these conflicts then take on new dimensions. These are the types of situations that often get tossed into the employer’s Respectful Workplace Policy. Generally words like, harassment, bullying, discrimination form part of the complaint. Often at the root of the conflict is a workplace miscommunication or work issue and almost always there is some form of power imbalance between the parties. 

Once the complaint is filed, employers usually are compelled to investigate the matter, either themselves or hiring outside expertise. At the end of an investigation there is a conclusion, as to whether there has been a breach to policy or not. This conclusion may resolve the issue as far as the employer is concerned, as a conclusion allows some form of employer driven action to occur, i.e. discipline, corrective action. 

What is left? The feelings behind the complaint and the conflict. An investigation does not generally resolve those feelings. Frankly, an investigation shouldn’t be trying to resolve the feelings, but looking instead at the evidence of the complaint. How can those feelings behind the conflict be dealt with in the workplace? Should they be dealt with? Whose responsibility is it to deal with these feelings?

We need to back-up and relook at how unresolved conflict is addressed in the workplace. We need to support and train supervisors and managers to recognize conflicts early, and to take remedial steps towards solving the initial issue so that conflict does not stay unresolved. We need to offer employees ongoing training in how to resolve differences, workplace conflicts, to give them tools in confronting and collaborating with others to resolve conflicts before they fester. We need to offer a service to disputants of moving forward in a way that will allow them to work together day-to-day while supporting them individually to look inward and learn their part in the conflict. Conflict takes two. It may be how the other person reacts versus initiates actions, but it still takes two for conflict to occur. 

It’s time to broaden our understanding of conflict, and to start looking at ways to assist those in conflicts so they learn a new skill, one that they can take forward in their working lives so they don’t fear conflict, but approach it with a more confident, collaborative manner.

Conflicts will continue to occur in our working lives. Let’s arm employees with the tools to resolve them before they fester into a formal investigation.

Witness Statements: The foundation of a thorough harassment investigation

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One of the most important factors to a complete and thorough harassment investigation is the statement.  We refer to the statements as the foundation of the report because that is the first place (besides your notes) that you have recorded and presented the evidence of the case.  

A properly written statement can do many things for an investigation.  They provide a framework for the case in that statements are the raw material of the case.  Statements give you a structure on which to base your questions for witnesses and they can also point out questions or gaps of information that the investigator needs to fill before the end of the interview or investigation.  Statements are what are left at the end of the interview process that you have the witness sign and take a copy of.  They are what you base your conclusions on.

You would have a difficult time indeed bringing in a conclusion to a case of harassment without the evidence presented in the statements and the final report.  There have been countless times that we have seen reports that attempt to make a conclusion based on a lack of evidence in the statements and the report.  These conclusions are unfortunately the ones that are vulnerable to challenge.

In conducting training across the Country, we have learned that statement writing is an area where most harassment investigations need support. People often struggle with taking information they have gathered and presenting it (in the statement and the report) in a clear and complete manner.  Unfortunately, incomplete statements lead to incomplete reports.  If the evidence is presented in an incomplete way in the final report that can lead to being unable to reach a conclusion based on evidence even though the investigator asked all the ‘right’ questions, and maybe even took ‘perfect notes’.  The evidence is just simply not there unless it is presented in a clear manner.  

Are you able to read the final report and have all your questions answered and your conclusions make sense to your boss?  Have you been asked to re-do witness interviews and/or entire investigations?  Does the witness ask for excessive changes?  These are all signs that can help you asses your statement taking process.

At Hill Advisory we follow the same pattern to format statements.  We do this because we believe that it keeps our process safe.