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Factors Inhibiting Confessions and Admissions in the Interview Process

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July 06, 2009

When we interview someone, we must take into consideration the factors which may prevent, or at least hinder, obtaining an admission and/or confession.

First of all, we must place ourselves into the role of the person about to be interviewed.

This is not always easy. We tend to be goal oriented and far too often are in a hurry, which leads to overlooking some of the nuances of the rapport building phase of the interview.

Relax, slow down and step back from the interview. Think about the other person. What must he or she be feeling?

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A good technique is to ask yourself: if I was a guilty person sitting here, about to be interviewed, what would I be thinking? What would be my fears? What might make me confess?

Then, ask yourself: If I was an innocent person about to be interviewed, what fears would I have? What could the interviewer do in this situation to make me open up and share what information I had?

The people we are interviewing have some generalized fears and some very specific fears about the interview process. Some of these fears are well grounded and it would be foolish to dismiss them or to pretend they don't exist. If we put ourselves in the role of the person to be interviewed, we can readily see that the following fears are very real:

  • Fears concerning legal sanctions and the fear of "getting a criminal record" is a strong factor, especially for 1st time offenders.
  • Concern about one's reputation or standing in the community (may be especially important in publicized or sensitive cases such as Child Abuse, Rape, Embezzlement), or when someone may lose professional licenses or privileges as a result of confessing (Doctor, Lawyer, Teacher, Nurse, etc). This is also a big inhibitor in obtaining confessions in small communities, where "everyone knows everyone else's business."
  • Not wanting to admit to oneself what they have done - known as self-denial. This is extremely common and the interviewer must work hard to differentiate between doing a bad thing and being a bad person. It is important for the interviewer not to come across as being judgmental in these situations.
  • Embarrassment in front of friends and family. This usually takes the form of already telling friends and family a "version" of the events, which would make it very hard to tell the truth without admitting they were lying to their friends and family in the first story.
  • Fear of rejection and not wanting to hurt loved ones. Many people are willing to atone for their mistakes and accept their punishment, but do not want their loved ones humiliated or punished for mistakes not of their doing.
  • Fear of retaliation - especially prevalent in drug cases and gang-related cases, where fear is actual, not theoretical. Let's get real here: the cops are going to go home eventually and leave people in their home environment. If that confession involves neighborhood gangs or other factors which endanger the person being interviewed (or their family), it's not likely they will implicate anyone else. I always laugh about the famous "Omerta" law preventing certain organized crime members from "ratting" on each other. In reality, the fear of swift, sure retribution probably had more to do with the "law of silence" than any "code."

About the Author

The Focused Interviewing System offers very practical interview and interrogation training for the working professional.

Chip Morgan is the author of Focused Interviewing.

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