By Michael Reddington, CFI
Many loss prevention professionals have built their career on the ability to diffuse conflict with shoplifters and encourage dishonest employees to tell the truth about what they stole. In fact, our interview skills are often a significant point of pride for us. It is commonly understood that the techniques that make us so successful during our investigative interviews can create advantages for us in other conversations as well. Below we will explore five specific aspects of investigative interviews that generate new opportunities for us when we transition them to other conversations.
Apply the Participatory Interview Framework: When we are talking to employees, customers, job candidates or even sales people, it can be very tempting to jump right to our main point. Whether our motivation is to save time, be transparent, or an attempt to take control, this approach typically limits our ability to acquire more valuable information. The participatory interview works so well because the interviewer camouflages what he is looking for while patiently walking the subject down a path that removes any potential escape routes and creates opportunities to gather more critical information before deciding to accuse the subject. We can experience the identical benefits by applying this approach to our business conversations. By patiently leading to our best point, and not with it, we create opportunities to gather more information, to allow our counterparts to begin influencing their own decisions and avoid creating unnecessary resistance that impedes us from achieving our goals.
Observe for Signs of Comfort and Discomfort: By the time we earn our CFI designations we are all aware that there is no single behavior that always indicates truth or deception and we are quite familiar with the four step process for evaluating our observations. We also know that the behavior changes we see during the introductory statement aren’t indications of lying, they are often signals of discomfort in relation to a specific stimulus. We can pick up on the same indicators during our executive meetings, coaching sessions, audit reviews and candidate interviews. If, at any point during the conversation, you observe your counterpart suddenly appear to act uncomfortable, quickly ask yourself why they may be feeling that way. Once you understand the likely motivation that drove their discomfort, you can adapt your approach to capitalize on the new opportunities it may create. These observations may just open the perfect path to strengthening relationships, inspiring commitment to change and hiring the best candidates.
Leverage Assumptive questions: It may be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that assumptive questions are only for obtaining admissions. The truth is, assumptive questions have many benefits when they are applied properly in almost any conversation. If we are relying on partners in our stores to complete a project for us we could ask them, “Can you have this done by Friday?” Their “yes” or “no” response will lock them into a position they will later need to defend, and limit your ability to avoid confrontation while continuing the conversation. Another alternative is to ask them, “When would you need to start in order to finish by Friday?” Sure, their answer may not be what you want to hear – but – they just committed themselves to the fact that they could complete the project by Friday. Now all we have to do is further explore what the potential obstacles are and how we can help them clear these obstacles. This approach removes most of the potential confrontation and the deadline debate while focusing on what it takes to get the job done.
Use Mini-Rationalizations: WZ’s presentation at the 2017 NRF Protect Conference focused on the value of using mini-rationalizations. Mini-rationalizations are brief (one or two sentence) rationalizations that still accomplish most of what full three minute rationalization stories are designed to achieve. These short statements are often just enough to help our counterparts save face and find the excuses or explanations necessary to move in the direction we need them to. We can decrease the resistance we encounter anytime we are asking someone to answer a difficult question or take on a task they would rather avoid by quickly showing understanding, or providing them with an excuse before we make our request.
Room set up: Positioning two chairs, roughly four feet apart, with no barriers in between them is not only optimal for interviews, it’s also optimal for many other conversations. It is the perfect way to set up the chairs for job candidate interviews, difficult coaching conversations, audit interviews, victim interviews and witness interviews. Setting up the chairs this way places us at the perfect proximal distance from our counterparts, makes it much easier to establish an empathetic connection, allows us to observe the totality of our counterpart’s responses and creates the impression they have our full attention.
Hopefully the goals we all set for ourselves during our interviews include obtaining the truth using moral, legal and ethic techniques that demonstrate respect for our subjects while protecting ourselves and our businesses. With some slight adaptation and a little strategic planning, we can use the same techniques we leverage during our investigative interviews to achieve our business and personal goals through conversations outside the interview room.