Building rapport during a workplace investigation has to be one of the most important skills that an investigator can develop.
With the ability to build rapport with those who you are interviewing, your job of getting information, and answers is going to be made a lot harder.
It is possible to develop the skills to build rapport, even if you aren’t what others would call a “people person”.
What It Isn’t
Building rapport with someone doesn’t mean that you will be “soft” with them.
Nor does it mean that you will be giving them the impression that you are on their side in the matter.
Falling into the trap of being either runs the risk of corrupting the impartiality of the investigator, and their investigation.
What It Is
To put it simply, in the context of a workplace investigation is building a level of trust and understanding with the person that you are talking to.
In the first instance, this is done by being professional and confident in what you are doing.
For example, conducting a face to face meeting in t-shirt, shorts and thongs, isn’t likely to give anyone the impression that you are taking it seriously. Which will in turn call into question your professionalism.
Avoiding eye contact with the person you are talking to, fidgeting, and saying “umm” and “ahh” a lot is likely to cause the other person to doubt your confidence.
What I Do
Prepare the room
Before the person who is being interviewed even turns up, I like to make sure that the room is ready.
Things like where people will be sitting. (While it is a tad adversarial, opposite sides of the table is usually how things end up.
Is there enough water and drinking glasses?
Something that people don’t expect is how dry their mouth gets when they are talking a lot. Even without taking into account how drying air-conditioning is.
I also like to make sure the glasses are turned upside down, in a stack on the table.
Notepads and pens?
Both can be purchased from an office supplies store for a few dollars each. Or, if you able to, raid the stationary cupboard for them
Pens and paper have a habit of running out when you least expect them too.
Get them settled in
The first thing I do is welcome them into the room.
You’d be surprised how far a simple introduction and hand shake can go in terms of building rapport.
Show them where they will be sitting, and ask them to please sit down.
While it may be obvious where they are sitting, asking them to sit down is simple manners.
The next thing I like to do is pour them a glass of water and offer it to them. If they don’t accept it, which they may not, leave it in front of them for later.
Seeing the glass right side up, and offered to them a full one plays into the Rule of Reciprocity (If someone does something nice, most people want to return the favour).
If they have a support person present, ask them if they have paper and pen to take notes.
If they don’t, offer them what you have.
If they do, leave it in front of them anyway.
(The offer of paper and pen applies even if the person turns up by themselves).
Explain the process
Once everyone has been given a few minutes to settle in, I introduce myself again, and explain who I am and what I am doing.
The next thing I do is go through the process with them.
If there is a support person present, explain to them what their role is, etc.
(If the support person is someone who may not have been one before, I encourage them to take notes, to be there to support the person being interviewed, to call breaks, etc.)
I also tell the person who will be doing most of the talking that the water is there for them to drink, and that it is highly likely that their mouth will get dry, and will need a drink.
I also pay attention to make sure that the glass always has water in it. (Only filling the glass in a lull, otherwise it can break the conversation of the person talking. (They will always watch you fill the glass)).
Depending on how long the interview is likely to go for, I tend to offer the opportunity to take a break, go for a walk, etc. (I will admit this one is for my benefit as much as the other person’s).
The time to call them is also before the support person suggests it.
If there isn’t a room for the support person to talk to the person being interviewed, tell them you will leave, and they can use the room you are in. (This also reduces the chance of something being overheard, which is likely if they went outside to talk).
While these have been a few ideas, how you build rapport with an interviewee depends greatly on you, and the person that you are talking to.
As we are all different, there isn’t, nor should the be a “one size fits all” approach.
The idea is to keep the process of building rapport going, and not simply think of it as something you can do once, and that is it.
The better you get at it, the easier your job will be.