Policies and Training

Detecting Lies in Employee Interviews Requires Specific Training

Internal employee behavior issues like theft of data, company or personal property, workplace violence threats, or sexual or racial harassment will demand an immediate investigative process. While the data and evidence gathering is a critical component, no conclusions can be drawn without a through and skilled interview of the potential perpetrator. Security professionals involved in these investigations need to hone their interview and interrogation skills with specific training.

AntonioGuillem / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

In investigations, it’s often said that, “We interview witnesses and we interrogate suspects, and one can become the other as our discussions proceed.”

Security investigators will want to use two approaches when trying to determine what occurred in the workplace: written statements from all parties involved and interviews with presumed perpetrators, which may become interrogations. Written statements from victims, witnesses, and suspects are referred to as either “commitment statements” or “timeline statements.” Commitment statements get the person to commit to their actions, behaviors, or statements on paper, which can be studied, verified, or refuted before the interview or interrogation process. A timeline statement asks the employee to account for the totality of his or her work day before, during, and after the event in question. With this information either refuted, confirmed, or still in question, especially from multiple sources, the investigator can enter the interview room with more confidence.

Today’s training in interviews and interrogations has evolved away from the then-standard behavioral cues of the 70s and 80s of thinking people must be lying if they don’t make eye contact, fidget in their seats, sweat profusely, or touch their hair. Current thinking and teaching in behavioral interviewing and forensic interrogations focus on the totality of the person sitting in the room with the investigator, including visual cues from the person’s eyes, body language, vocal tone and, most importantly, his or her choice of words.

One of the first academics to focus on lie detection based on facial expressions that match or do not match the context of the situation or the nature of the investigation is Paul Ekman, PhD, a UC San Francisco professor and expert on studying the facial features of people around the globe. He said that we all exhibit the seven basic human emotions: anger, surprise, happiness, fear, contempt, disgust, and sadness. Ekman’s work suggests that regardless of culture or geography, people show these seven types of emotions in their faces, and through training in what he calls his Facial Action Coding System, investigators can recognize these clues in their interviews and interrogations (http://www.ekmaninternational.com). Ekman’s seminal book, Telling Lies (Times Books, 1985) was one of the first to focus on the scientific research attached to facial features. The Fox drama “Lie to Me” starring Tim Roth was based on Ekman’s work.

The training program for the Reid Technique of Interviewing and Interrogation (www.reid.com) has been used since 1947. This Chicago-based company has trained thousands of law enforcement, military, and corporate security investigators in their approach, using a variety of 1-day and multiple-day formats.

In their book, Spy the Lie (Icon Books, 2013), authors Philip Houston, Mike Floyd, and Susan Carnicero bring their decades of experience working as interrogators for the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency. They offer many examples of how suspects’ written and spoken words have tripped them up, including a detailed analysis of O.J. Simpson’s interview at the time of his 1994 arrest by LAPD.