The Importance of Questions in the Forensic Interviewing and Interrogation Process

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One of the things that makes Michael Reddington’s skin crawl is the phrase “buyers are liars.” He emphasizes that it’s not true, not any more than anyone else. Everyone has goals and will strategically share information that’s likely to help them achieve those goals. That’s not dishonesty; it’s interest protection.

Prior to any interaction where you need information, you have to think about the reasons why your counterparty shouldn’t share the information with you. Michael writes all of the reasons down on a piece of paper. He’ll look at that list and ask himself how he can build a strategy based on his perceived weaknesses and threats, as opposed to his perceived strengths.

Then he’ll build a communication strategy that includes what he illustrates, the questions he asks, the order he does it, how he has the conversation, and even the time of day that would work best.

“Time” is working against you

The sales process might take weeks, months, or even years. You might not even be jumping to get the information over the course of the first call. You have time throughout the sales cycle to get more information.

Michael states that “Time is the enemy of empathy. Time is the enemy of listening. Time is the enemy of strategic preparation and communication.” If Michael starts a conversation with someone and focuses on trying to figure out where he is in the funnel, the focus becomes all about Michael. That will get communicated through their interactions and encourages the other person to withhold information versus share it.

People from the U.S. are familiar with the Miranda warning. Michael likes to joke that our customers have been “Mirandized” as well. Customers feel that anything they say can and will be used against them at the first opportunity. How do you change that feeling? You have to raise your situational awareness to authentically lead them to a commitment to share that information.

Do certain questions elicit a better response?

Michael points out that the questions you ask are important, but how the questions are set up can be more important than what’s asked. Even worse, if you resort to asking more questions back-to-back, it can make people defensive. People are looking to you for expertise and guidance. It’s hard to come off as an expert if you’re just asking questions. To come off as an expert, you have to illustrate your expertise effectively throughout the conversation. That’s why you “illustrate before you investigate.”

There are things you can do to invoke 3–4 of the mechanisms of persuasion at the same time as you illustrate. If you’re trying to figure out someone’s priorities, Michael notes that you don’t want to say outright, “Well Mark, I’m sure you’re probably busy, and you have a lot of things going on right now, so where does this fall within your priorities?” This not only puts them on the defensive, but you’re also using “you” and “your” far too many times. It’s also showing that you’re worried about what’s in your best interests.

Instead, you should say: “Mark, our experience has taught us that throughout this process—which typically takes months for us to go through to the degree that we need to arrive at the pinpoint solutions necessary to partner together—we know that things are going to change on both sides. Whether it is pressure from our leadership, pressure from our customers, whether it’s different budgeting pressure…as these pressures change, our focus changes.” Then you pause on things you can do to make it as easy and stress-free as possible for partners to manage the process within their existing competing priorities.

He’s set up the question by illustrating it in the third person. His credibility perception increases, and it’s easier for them to share information with you. You can ask any number of questions. One of Michael’s favorites—instead of saying “who else is involved in the decision-making process?”—is saying, “No matter how intimately we are involved in the process, other people are going to want to get their hands on it, that’s just the world we live in. What 3–4 questions are you going to get asked by people who feel the need to insert themselves into the situation?”

He likes to provide people with the answers to the questions they know they’re going to get to reduce their stress about the inevitable follow-up conversations.

Tools that Michael uses as a go-to

Michael uses the “illustrate and investigate” method in every situation in his life, from buying a car to negotiating a loan for work on his house.

Another that he prefers is to limit how often he says the word “you” because it comes across as accusatory:

  • “Have you done this yet?”
  • “Did you read this?”

These questions are basically implying they didn’t do what you’re asking them about. It’s not what the asker means, but it’s taken in that manner. Even jumping on a call after emailing a proposal and saying, “Did you take the time to read it?” comes off as an accusal immediately.

Instead, drop the word “you” and illustrate before you investigate. You could say something like, “I’ve got to remember that when we send these schematics off to folks that they’ve got about 9,487 other things going on. So with that said, has there been an opportunity for you to even take a quick glance at them, so I know where to start?”

Michael is a wealth of information about the interview process and how it can be used in both traditional interrogations and the enterprise sales process. Listen to episode #227 of the Negotiations Ninja podcast to learn more!