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. Fortunately, most people are cooperative, fairly truthful and possess a relatively normal personality. There have been quite a number of times, however, when we’ve had to extract information from people whose base nature or personality has been overwhelmingly outside of the normal range.
With these type subjects, it’s the investigator’s people skills that determine whether she will prevail.
In our multiple-part series, we begin this week with tips for interviewing a subject with a narcissistic personality. Because of their compulsive, detail-oriented personality bent, narcissists can actually make very good witnesses – if you know how to handle them.
Definition of a Narcissistic Personality:
Most experts use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, to diagnose mental conditions and personalities.
DSM-5 criteria for a narcissistic personality include these features:
- Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
- Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
- Exaggerating your achievements and talents
- Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
- Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
- Requiring constant admiration
- Having a sense of entitlement
- Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
- Taking advantage of others to get what you want
- Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
Description of a Narcissist (from Psychology Today):
Narcissism is often interpreted in popular culture as a person who’s in love with him or herself. It is more accurate to characterize the pathological narcissist as someone who’s in love with an idealized self-image, which they project in order to avoid feeling (and being seen as) the real, disenfranchised, wounded self.
Having the above knowledge, a field investigator should be able to quickly assess the subject’s personality during the pre-interview casual conversation we engage in with witnesses to determine where they are “coming from”.
If the investigator has ascertained that she is dealing with a narcissist, the three best basic approaches are:
- Provide positive feedback throughout the interview without being disingenuous and overly solicitous. A narcissist needs to be constantly recognized but, is also suspicious of people who are being nice.
- Base the account from the narcissist’s perspective. As with most people, but more so with a narcissist, people recall best when mentally positioned (though guided imagery) to recall an event from where they were at the moment of occurrence.
- Let the subject talk. At some point, with mild encouragement, the narcissist, because of the compulsive component of this specific personality, will give you the information necessary to complete a thorough statement. By his very narcissistic nature, he is exacting with details. Also, we’ve found that engaging a narcissist in minor physical tasks (such as drawing a diagram of the location of accident or arranging site photos) during interviews, helps defuse excess energy and OCD-like behavior.
In the next Bulletin in this series, we will cover, “The Empath” – Does she give a true account of the incident or is she wrapped in the emotion of the moment, clouding her recall?
BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.
As always, stay safe.