(Continuing the series)
Interview techniques by witness personality type: Last week, we stated:
“An often requested service for investigators is to interview witnesses in order to obtain written or recorded statements.
To that end, a successful interview is often based on the investigator’s approach and the better she can assess the subject’s personality, the more effective the interview.”
In our multiple-part series, this week we focus on interviewing an empathic witness.
Definition of an Empathic Personality: (The Mind Unleashed.org):
Feeling others emotions and taking them on as your own
Sensitive to violence, cruelty or tragedy
Loves to daydream
Description of a Empathic Personality: (from Psychology Today):
“Empaths are highly sensitive and supportive. They are finely tuned instruments when it comes to emotions and tend to feel everything, sometimes to an extreme.”
“Empaths unwillingly, unwittingly absorb, intuit and feel other people’s emotions — from joy to misery.”
Armed with the above knowledge, below are effective approaches that can be taken by an investigator attempting to elicit a strong, accurate and credible statement from an empathic witness.
- The empath, prone to daydreaming, needs to be kept on track by sticking to the facts as points of reference. Empathic witnesses may keenly recall many details at once, flooding their sensitive natures. Albeit more time-consuming, let the empath tell the story their way but guide them to stay on point with facts. I.e., keep them on a timeline track. “The accident occurred at 12:30 p.m. How long after the accident did the police arrive?” rather than “At what time did police show up at the accident scene?” The latter is too abstract for an empath who is reliving, moment by moment, the witnessed event. We’ve all experienced startling incidents which seem to either have occurred much more rapidly or stretched out impossibly longer than the reality. Guide (not lead) the empath through a factual timeline.
- Don’t lead (you can direct) an empath as, they tend towards creativity. “In which hand was the defendant driver holding her cell phone?” is very different from the correct “Was the def. driver on her cell phone before or during the accident?” The former may generate a very wrong interpretation of the facts. If asked the first way, conceivably, what the empath witness meant and can potentially state during a deposition or trial, might be, “In her right hand. After she pulled it out of her purse to call 911 after the accident.” Lawyers do not like to be surprised during negotiations or at trial.
- Recognize the memory-clouding emotional process that an empathic witness may experience. An empath’s sensitivity is heightened. She may process the pain and shock through the eyes of the actual victim during recall. Do not rush the interview. While keeping the witness on track by time and position reference points, an investigator may be surprised by the voluminous recall by empaths. Again, an empath is able to place herself in the victim’s state of mind and emotions at time/place of occurrence and observe the event through that prism. Follow the facts through the emotions; conduct soft fact checks, though, such as asking the empathic witness if she’d been involved in a similar accident/incident. If the recall timeline doesn’t make sense, the empath may be emotionally overwhelmed, thereby relaying events with huge sequential gaps. Ensure that the facts make rational and logistical sense. E.g., the witness may say, “I was in the same train car as the man who got hurt. The train was stopped at the Chambers Street station. He slipped and fell on to the tracks where he was then run over.” (This scenario is graphic but also true, and representative of the need to take accurate statements.) There are follow up questions then that an investigator must ask to correctly interpret that statement: 1. What was the position of the witness relative to the victim? Clear line of sight? 2. Had the witness observed the victim before the incident? If so, what were the victim’s actions? Did he appear sick, injured or under the influence? 3. If the victim was in the car, how did he fall onto the tracks? Was he between cars? 4. Obviously, the train must have bolted forward (brake test?) or begun traveling for the victim to have been struck. How long had the train been stopped at this station? (The list goes on but the point has been made – the investigator must ensure the logical sequence of events.)
Continuing with this series, in the next Bulletin, we will cover, “The A-Type”: techniques for interviewing an alpha personality witness.
BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.
As always, stay safe.