Interview Techniques By Witness Personality Type: Part II: The Empath.

empathy

(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

  • Creative

  • Addictive personality

  • 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Tips For Witness Statements By Email Or Phone & Statement Checklist

With so many people with busy schedules these days, sometimes, an investigator does not have the opportunity to sit down with a witness and take a statement.  While an in-person statement is best and the ideal as the operative can view the witness’ demeanor, mannerisms and interpret the witness’ body language, that simply may not be possible. Or you can have a witness that has moved very far out-of-town.  For whatever reason, the investigator now finds herself having to take a statement via email or the phone.

There are several steps that we follow specific to these methods of recording testimony: (For this article’s purpose, references to emails and phones numbers are for those to be used in connection to a witness’ statement.)

  1. Verify your witness’ identity.   Via phone or email, you may not be able to tell if you are speaking with John Doe, Sr. or Jr., so ensure you are speaking with your true witness by verifying personal identifiers such as full name, DOB and SSN.
  2. Verify the owner/registrant of the phone number or the email.  Imagine trying to follow up with a witness for clarification on a point in his statement only to get this text in return, “Don’t text this number ever again. I don’t know where that lying cheater is and I never want to hear from him again either.”  Or, worse, you disclose sensitive information in an email only to find out that, for his own purposes,  your witness had given you someone else’s email address.
  3. Verify the person’s residence rather than where they are staying on the date and time of your call/email.   You may be reaching someone at their beach house or ski chalet.  Ask if the address is their permanent residence.
  4. Before taking any statement, talk with your witness at length.  Remember that a witness statement is taken not only for the sake of preserving evidence and recall of events, but also for the purpose of negotiation, therefore, the strength of your witness’ recall is critical in that the other side can then determine the validity of the monetary demand by the plaintiff’s attorney.  Witnesses should therefore, prior to any official statement recording, be walked through an initial recitation of events involved in the client’s matter to a) jog and strengthen their memories and  b) allow the witness to experience the logical chain of thought involved so that the memories are returned in efficient, logical order – especially important if live court testimony will be involved, enabling the witness to become adjusted to the pace of Q&A.  Also, always write for the court.  Presume a judge will see your witness statement at some point. The witness’ recall must therefore be recorded clearly.
  5. *Use a witness statement checklist for the actual statement. An investigator can go off script if there is reason to but for the most part, a comprehensive statement checklist ensures that no relevant information is lost or goes unrecorded.
  6. Request the contact formation of at least two emergency or backup contacts.  Two alternate contacts should be on record for any witness statement undertaking, in-person, via phone or by email.   You do not know the witness’ plans to relocate and neither may she at the time of statement intake.

*Below is an actual Witness Statement Checklist currently in use by BNI operatives for MVA (Motor Vehicle Accident) incidents.

Keep in mind that a strong witness statement may position a case for a fair settlement sooner rather than later.

BNI Operatives; Situationally aware.

As always, be safe.