The One Interviewing Technique Guaranteed to Get You the Truth Here's what you need to know to avoid letting others fool you.
- Effective questioning techniques to help you elicit honest information during interviews
- Ineffective questioning techniques to avoid
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We interview people every day of our lives to get information that will help us make wise decisions. Whether you are a doctor or patient, salesperson or buyer, screening a new hire, or you are the new hire, we ask questions to get answers to make safer choices and to help others do the same.
As a former Department of Defense certified military interrogator, I questioned detainees to obtain intelligence information to thwart terror attacks. If I couldn't get that information, people would be in great danger; the stakes were high. To ensure I got truthful, detailed information, I developed an effective strategic interviewing method, which I have perfected over the years. It is now known as the SISCO Method of interviewing, and it includes six core competencies that I believe will transform anyone into an expert interviewer.
However, one technique you can learn and start using today will significantly increase your chances of getting truthful information in any conversation. That technique is your ability to ask effective questions.
Effective questioning techniques
Asking effective questions may seem a bit obvious, but I have discovered that most people think they ask good questions when they actually don't. Most people aren't even aware of the words they use in their questions. And sometimes, their questions aren't questions at all; they become comments. When you use these effective questioning techniques, you will get the information you seek.
First, follow this simple rule: Put the words who, what, where, when, why or how at the beginning of each question. This way, your question becomes an interrogative or open-ended question and will encourage a narrative response. If your question does not begin with one of those interrogatives, it will be close-ended — a yes/no question — and you may only get a yes or no answer.
To ensure you get a detailed answer, ask a detailed interrogative question. All you have to remember is to ask for what you want! For example, if you want to know what I think about your product in relation to your competitor's product, you wouldn't ask me, "What do you think about our product?" Because if you do, you just provided me a way to avoid telling you how I think your product measures up — or does not — to your competitor's. Instead, you would ask me, "How do you think our product measures up to our competitor's?"
Ineffective questioning techniques
I have a saying: If you ask a vague question, you get a vague answer. Vague questions make it easy for a person to lie by omitting truthful information. This is the easiest form of lying. You don't want to make it easy for someone to lie to you.
The worst question to ask someone is a leading question. Attorneys are notorious for asking these types of questions because they are leading a witness to an answer they want to hear. Leading questions can trap people into saying something untrue because of how they are worded. Trust me, I have first-hand experience with this when a defense attorney cross-examined me during a military tribunal. As a trained interrogator, I knew the questions were a trap, so I told the judge I would only answer interrogative questions! That was a show. In the end, I won.
Lastly, avoid the common mistake of asking two questions simultaneously. It isn't easy for a person to answer two questions at once. And if that person has something to hide, they may only answer the less-incriminating question and avoid the other one in hopes you do not follow up and ask the question they didn't answer again.
Don't tell, ASK!
This last technique is vital, and it can have grave consequences. I've witnessed many interviewers make this mistake. Those interviewers who lack confidence in their questioning skills tend to tell people the answer instead of asking for it. Here is an example of what I mean from an interview with Casey Anthony in March 2017.
Reporter: "To your understanding, how did she die?" (referring to her daughter, Caylee)
Casey: "I don't know."
Reporter: "You don't know? Something about drowning, possibly?"
Casey: "Everyone else has their theories. I don't know."
Reporter: "So your parents had her."
Casey: "My dad did."
Reporter: "Next thing you know, she's missing? Right? How did it play?"
Casey: "I did what I was told. I don't remember too much of what happened."
This is a classic example of how ineffective questioning gets you nowhere. The reporter told Casey the answers; he didn't ask her for them. He asked a leading question, and in the end, he didn't obtain any detailed information.
If you want the truth, ask straightforward, specific interrogative questions. Ineffective questions can give people a way out of answering. Be patient and calm, and allow people time to answer. You will be amazed at how much information you can get when you practice this technique.