March 25, 2022 | Barb Carr

Evidence Collection Tip: Effective Phone Interviews

I’ve received a lot of questions about how to perform effective phone interviews for an incident investigation. Understandably, many investigators haven’t been able to travel or meet witnesses in person like they did pre-pandemic so phone interviews have been essential to collecting information. Today’s evidence collection tip focuses on building rapport in phone interviews – an important step that many investigators skip. This tip will change the game and help you collect better information.

Need to learn more about collecting information? Join me for our upcoming 2-day (virtual or in-person) training focused on interviewing and evidence collection techniques.

Building Rapport in Phone Interviews

In the TapRooT® 12-Step Process for interviewing a witness, there are three steps dedicated to building rapport (Steps 3, 4 and 5). Good rapport is important to establish credibility and trust. Without credibility and trust, it becomes difficult to encourage a witness to share information. These steps will help get your phone interviews off to a great start.

Check your body language in phone interviews

Check your Body Language

Before you call the witness, sit up straight and smile. Believe it or not, people can “hear” if you are not smiling and “see” if you are slouching. Body language is a big piece in the communication process. Even when others can’t see you, your body language reflects your mood and feeling.

How to greet the witness in phone interviews.

Greet the Witness

Call the witness and greet him/her in an upbeat tone. This is your “first impression.” First impressions count even when you are talking on the phone. The first things to say are: who you are, why you are calling and a thank you for participating. “Hello, this is Barb Carr. I’m calling about our scheduled phone call today about the incident that occurred at your facility on February 1. Thank you for making yourself available.” Allow some time for them to respond to your opening before going to the next step.

Explain the purpose of phone interviews.

Explain the Interview Purpose

Next, explain the interview purpose. “We need your help. I scheduled this interview today to collect any information you can think of about this incident that might help us stop accidents like this from happening again at our plant.” This puts the interviewee at ease a little when they hear you are working to solve problems as opposed to looking for someone to blame for the incident. We need their help to get it done – get them on your team.

Explain the process of the phone interview to the witness.

Explain the Interview Process

Describe the interview process which is different from the purpose. Let them know the process is a little bit different by phone than in person. Tell them how you will be taking notes, and let them know you will review the notes with them at the end. Use his/her name once or twice in rapport-building because it helps to increase rapport. “David, so I don’t forget anything you tell me, I’ll be taking notes during this interview by typing them into a Word Document so there may be some silent pauses in our conversation while I’m updating the notes. Since you can’t see me, I wanted to let you know that since pauses on the phone can feel a little awkward. At the end of the interview, I’ll read the notes back to make sure I understood everything correctly.” (Note: We don’t recommend recording the phone interview. If you do, check with your legal department about how you should disclose that to the witness. The reason we do not recommend it is people feel more comfortable giving information when they are not recorded, and when they have an opportunity to review the notes.)

Break the ice in the phone interview.

Break the Ice

Break the ice with the witness by initiating a conversation not related to the incident. This teaches them how the interview questions are going to go without telling them but by showing them. People have more confidence in what we do than what we say. To do this, ask an open-ended question (again, a question not related to the incident). Example: “Before we get started, I’m curious, what brought you into this line of work?” Then allow the witness to reply. Use techniques to encourage the witness to tell you as much as possible in answer to this open-ended question. Some techniques you might use are summarizing what the witnesses said, “Oh, your uncle worked at the plant until retiring last year, and told you about an opening. How is he enjoying retirement?” Or use echo-probing. Echo-probing is simply taking the last few words a witness said and repeating them back in question form. Witness: “My uncle referred me to the position. He retired last year.” You: “Retired last year?” Pause and allow time for response. It might feel uncomfortable to pause for a few seconds on the phone, but it encourages the other party to talk and fill in the silence. When you take the time to listen actively, you are teaching the interviewee an important lesson. That lesson is that the witness will expect you to pause and listen attentively during the interview because you did it at the beginning of the call. In this way, the witness will relax into the interview more and won’t be concerned with this style of questioning about the incident (open-ended questions, summarizing, paraphrasing and frequent pauses).

If you are familiar with the TapRooT® 12-Step Process, you know rapport-building in a phone interview is not so different from an in-person interview with a few adjustments.

Learn more about investigative interviewing and evidence collection in our 2-day course.

This is a hybrid course, attend in-person OR virtually!

TapRooT® Evidence Collection & Interviewing Techniques Course

May 2-3, 2022 (The Summit is May 4-6)

Knoxville, Tennessee

Interviewing & Evidence Collection, Investigations
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