The Meaning of Verbal or Physical Behaviors During an Interview or Interrogation

An interrogation is designed to find the truth.

An interrogation is designed to find the truth.

Interviews and interrogations are similar in that they both are designed to get to the truth. During a job interview, a recruiter looks for ways to get at the truth about a candidate’s personality and motivation that they’ll see daily on the job. During an interrogation, the interrogator needs to find out if the suspect really did the deed or knows who did. Learning how to read “tells,” or gestures and tones that point to lies or misdirection, is a powerful tool for anyone doing the grilling.

Behaviors vs. Facts

During an interrogation, the detective or interviewer does the persuading, trying to get the person to confess or give up her partner. In an interview, the interviewee or job candidate does the persuading in hopes of getting a job offer. Interviewers and interrogators learn to watch for body language in both instances to gauge the response to the persuasive questions. But the response must be weighed against the evidence. Some people are nervous when their life is on the line, for example, which may be the case in a job interview or a criminal interrogation. Just because the answers come from a shaky voice told with trembling hand gestures doesn’t necessarily mean the person is lying. She might be just nervous. On the other hand, nervous gestures may indicate guilt in some shape or form.

Tone vs. Temperament

When a person being interviewed or interrogated adopts an aggressive tone that sounds demanding and demeaning, that could be just the way that person expresses herself in her daily dealings with others, or it could indicate a bullying stance meant to intimidate the other person. Just because someone speaks loudly or with aggressiveness doesn’t mean she’s a criminal – though it could. Tone should be taken in the context of the entire interview and previous knowledge about the person to gauge its weight and significance to the truth.

Words vs. Actions

Effective interviewers and interrogators know how to watch for body language that betrays the words being spoken. For example, when a person says she believes in the importance of honesty and puts her hand over heart or steeples her fingers, her body language is reinforcing her words. On the other hand, when a person wipes her hand across her mouth as she speaks the very same words, she is most likely lying. Honest people tend to maintain an open posture, while those being dishonest may fold their arms across their chests and cross their legs, in effect, closing off the interviewer or interrogator from getting at the truth.

Combination vs. Isolation

Ideally, interviewers and interrogators rely on a combination of tones, gestures, behaviors and words to come to a final conclusion about the integrity and guilt or innocence of their subjects. Taken out of context, for example, a shaky voice might just reflect nervousness. But add in gestures such as nodding when they say “no” or folding their arms when asked direct questions, the shaky voice then becomes more telling and accurate. According to the FBI, taking the changes a person makes in the overall context of their previous actions and behaviors is the best way for interviewers and interrogators to accurately utilize body language and verbal behaviors when trying to get at the truth. Talking about unrelated topics and going over easy introductions in the beginning of a conversation can help set the baseline on which to judge all other physical and verbal responses.

 

About the Author

Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."

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