Verbal Cues

When you are conducting your interview with either the subject or the witness, you can use these effective interviewing techniques throughout your investigation. First, we will discuss the verbal cues that assist in detecting deception in what people say and non-verbal cues that will indicate what their body does that contradicts their verbal responses. Five areas of verbal cues include:

  • Selective Wording – Someone might be lying if he or she doesn’t actually answer your question.
  • Quasi-denials – Listen for instances when people back out of statements before actually staying them, like “I could be wrong but…”
  • Qualifiers – Another possible sign of description could be using qualifying phrases like “to the best of my knowledge…”
  • Softeners – If people are guilty, people soften their diction using words like “borrow” or “mistake”
  • Overly formal wording – Liars might use phrases that add distance, like formal titles Mr. or Mrs.

From an interview perspective, when you are questioning someone, you want to look for certain non-verbal cues. These cues will give you indications based on the following 5 topic areas:

  • Stress signals – much of detecting lies is actually detecting stress.
  • Deviation from base line – Look for a baseline of truthful answer behaviors and then take note of any changes during further questioning.
  • Telltale four – Look for clusters of verbal and nonverbal signs.
  • Eye signals – As a lie is constructed and told, the liar’s blink rate goes down. After the life is told, the blink rate will increase up to eight times.
  • Emotional incongruence – Sometimes you just have a gut feeling that something is off, like catching someone with a phony smile.

Interaction & Reaction

What do we often encounter when we talk with guilty people versus non-guilty people we’re investigating. Guilty people often get defensive, where an innocent person is going to go on the offensive. The individual will become “stronger” in their response “I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it!” Where a guilty person starts to try to rationalize and explain their actions. A liar is uncomfortable facing his questioner/accuser and may turn his head or body away. They may be sitting with their legs and/or arms crossed and then shift their entire body away from you. This is because they are uncomfortable facing the individual and attempting to protect themselves, from they perceive, as an attack on their credibility. A liar might also unconsciously place objects such as (books, coffee cup, etc.) between themselves and you. This creates a sense of a barrier between you as the interviewer and themselves.

Change of Conversation

If you believe someone is lying, then change the subject of the conversation quickly. A liar follows along willingly and becomes more relaxed. The guilty person wants the subject changed; an innocent person may be confused by the sudden change in topics and will want to go back to the previous subject.

Neuro-Linguistics defines Neurolinguistics as “the study of how language is represented in the brain: that is, how and where our brains store our knowledge of the language (or languages) that we speak, understand, read and write, what happens in our brains as we acquire that knowledge, and what happens as we use it in our everyday lives.”

When responding to a direct question – i.e., “Did you steal the ring from the jewelry display?”, if the person’s eyes are up and to the left, they’re visually remembering images. If they are going to the side-left, they are remembering sounds. If the person’s eyes are going down and to the left, they’re remembering internal dialog. If the eyes travel up and to the right it is usually indicative that the person is trying to quickly develop a plausible, but deceptive, answer to the question. If the eyes travel down and to the right or to the side-right, it usually indicates deception. These eye movements are normally non-voluntary and difficult to control during questioning.

Interviewing the Victim

When interviewing a victim, the investigator must keep in mind that the person they are speaking with has just been through a bad, and often times, a traumatizing experience. The victim’s health and personal safety must be the investigators primary concern. This may cause the interview with the victim to be postponed. The victim may be angry, afraid, or even traumatized and not at a stage to talk with an investigator until they overcome their emotions. If the interview was to continue, these intense emotions may be projected onto the investigator. The investigator will have to use all of his or her communication skills to obtain the valuable information that the victim possesses (Hoffman, 2005). The victim should be asked specific questions that will allow the investigator to write a description of what happened in as much detail as possible.

The investigator should ask follow-up questions to clarify points in the victim’s statement. The victim should be asked if they know the other person(s) involved in the incident and what, if any, is their relationship to them. The investigator should obtain the victim’s personal information (home, work, cell and email) to facilitate follow-up conversations. The use of Social Media and the internet can be used to assist the investigator in locating this personal information about the victim and possible relationship between the victim and the subject (Hoffman, 2005).

  • Victim Interview Questions (Open and Leading)
  • What has happened to make you feel unsafe in the workplace?
  • What has this person done or said to threaten you?
  • What was the exact verbiage used in the threat?
  • When did this behavior start?
  • Why do you feel you are being targeted?
  • How many times has this happened?
  • Do others feel the same way? If so, why?
  • What has your response been when this person does this?
  • Were there witnesses to the incident? (who)
  • Have any of your co-workers approached you regarding the matter?
  • Where were you when the incident occurred?
  • What was the triggering event to cause this last incident?
  • Are you aware of any weapons this person may have?
  • Are you aware of any problems this person may be having outside of work?
  • What do you think is needed to restore your feeling of safety in the workplace?

Interview Techniques

  • Show me how employee “B” touched or shoved you
  • How close were you?
  • Did he/she hit you with his/her right or left hand?
  • How did he/she try to block you?
  • Use measuring scales to define the intensity
  • Show me the way this person looked at you

Witness Interviews

Interviews conducted with witnesses should be non-accusatory. Investigators must make a systematic effort to interview all witnesses so that a thorough investigation is completed. Some witnesses to a crime may eventually become suspects but they should not be treated as such until the investigator feels that there is adequate evidence to infer this and is prepared to proceed with an interrogation. During a witness interview the investigator should ask open ended questions allowing the witness as much time to answer in as much detail as he or she wants. If the witness’ answers are too short or lack description the investigator should ask follow up questions to elicit further detail. The questions asked of witnesses will vary depending on the investigation (Hoffman, 2005). In general, the witness should be asked to describe what they observed in as much detail as possible, what involvement, if any, they had in the event; their knowledge of, or relationship with, any of the participants, and personal information (name, age, phone number, address). Keep in mind that if your witness saw the incident and it involved physical violence they may be fearful of retribution and hesitant to speak with you. Reassure them the goal of the investigation is to restore peace and safety in the workplace. Don’t promise something you can’t deliver. Ensure anonymity throughout the investigation.

Witness Interviews General Questions

  • What is your general perception on the safety of your work environment?
  • Are you aware of any problems or conflict within your group?
  • Have you seen any inappropriate or offensive behavior in the workplace?
  • Have you heard any rumors that are cause for concern?
  • Remember to tread lightly; the individual may have no direct knowledge of the alleged incident.
  • If the witness saw the incident – refer to interview techniques.
  • Show me how it was done
  • With what intensity
  • Use measuring scales

Witness Interview Direct Questions

  • We were advised that you were a potential witness to an incident that occurred on 4/12/15 at 4:30 p.m. between employee “X” & “Y”. Did you see any disturbing interaction between these two employees?
  • Did you see them talking or near each other at all during this time?
  • What has been your perception of the normal interaction between the two employees?
  • Have you heard any gossip around the department regarding these employees?

Note: Always document the date and approximate time of any incident witnessed.

Subject Interview Considerations

The use of the introductory statement style of interviewing, as taught by Wicklander-Zulawski and Associates, Inc., is designed to elicit signs of guilt from the suspect early in the interview. One of the benefits to this type of interview is that it allows the investigator to evaluate the subject’s behavior before making any accusations and committing oneself to an interrogation. In this interview style the subject has little opportunity to participate in the early part of the conversation.

During the process the interviewer covers several specific topics:

  1. Who we are and what we do – The interviewer describes his role within the organization or agency and briefly explains the core values and goals of the organization. The interviewer stresses how their job is to protect the citizens or employees. While not spoken the interviewer implies that the subject is also deserving of that protection.
  2. Different types of crime – The interviewer explains that part of his or her job is to investigate different types of crime or violations. The interviewer lists several types of offenses, including the one the subject is suspected of involvement in. This mention of a specific type of offense, is generally preceded by a phrase to minimize the seriousness and occurs with a brief pause and eye contact.
  3. How we investigate – The investigator goes on to describe the variety of investigative tools at their disposal. Specifically, several investigative techniques that could have led to the identification of the subject are discussed.

These three points are designed to cause a guilty suspect to react involuntarily. This gives the interviewer the opportunity to assess the subject’s reactions to the crime under discussion. If at this point the investigator has not detected any indication that the subject is guilty they can continue on with interview questions and never make an accusation. If, however, the suspect has demonstrated signs of guilt, the interviewer begins to offer rationalizations and reasons for the person’s actions, that will ultimately lead to an accusation.

The subject’s admission represents an important step in the interview process. It may lead to a breakthrough in your investigation and interview process. The subject may choose to deny taking part in the activity. It is important for the interviewer to move the subject beyond an admission to an actual confession.


  • They will be guarded and may not cooperate
  • Don’t disclose too much too soon
  • Consider Weingarten (i.e. rights that guarantee an employee union representation during an investigatory interview), if you have union employees

Subject Interview Questions

  • What is your personal perception of the work environment?
  • How do you feel about employee “X”?
  • Has he or she ever done anything to offend you? How did that make you feel?
  • Do you feel the workplace is safe?
  • What was the last interaction you had with the person?
  • An allegation has been made against you involving employee “X” and I need you to help me understand what happened.
  • “Help me to understand why there are several witnesses that have confirmed your involvement, yet you say this never happened? “
  • “If you didn’t do this, what motive would someone have to file a false report against you?”


  • To utilize Interview Techniques
  • To document the date and time of any reported incidents.

Results of the Investigation

  • Allegation
  • Substantiated
  • Cleared
  • Inconclusive

Reasons for an inconclusive result?

  • Word against Word
  • No witnesses
  • Harassment or Bullying Behavior creating a fear of retribution
  • No apparent tangible evidence
  • Conflicting statements
  • Many discrepancies & inconsistencies
  • Don’t dismiss rumors
  • Suspect demeanor indicates no deception
  • Witness’ bias or lack of bias

At this point, consider other investigative options to uncover facts. Start by reviewing:

  • Employee records
  • Employee email and instant messages
  • Internet usage and history
  • Documents on hard drive
  • Office phone/cellular records
  • Analyze date and time on computer systems
  • Proximity card access
  • Public Records (Circuit Clerk)

Depending on personal preference and the situation interviewers will choose to use the interview style that is most comfortable. Regardless of the style chosen, the goal of the interrogation is the same: to obtain a confession, legally and ethically, that will stand up to scrutiny in court. To accomplish this, interviewers will use many of the same tools, despite their different choices, or combinations, of interview styles.


Developing rapport with a subject early in the interview can be very valuable to ultimately obtaining a confession. Spending time with the subject discussing non-threatening topics will put the person at ease. The questions asked by the interviewer during the rapport building process should not be personal. These questions can be as simple as verifying their address, phone number, the spelling of a name or work history. For interviewers who prefer to evaluate behavioral and physiological responses to questions, the rapport building process allows them to establish the subject’s normal responses to questions. This makes evaluating truthful and deceptive responses later in the interview easier.

A common occurrence in normal conversations is mirroring. Both parties will mimic the posture, gestures and mannerisms of the other. When building rapport, the interviewer can mimic the posture and gestures of the subject. Once the interviewer feels that rapport has been established he or she should move slightly (cross or uncross legs etc.). If the subject mirrors this movement rapport has been established.

Signs of Deception

There is no guaranteed way to determine if a subject is lying. There are no typical nonverbal behaviors that are associated with deception. Not all liars display the same behavior in the same situation. Additionally, behaviors will differ across deceptive situations (Virj, 2000). The interviewer has to rely on his or her experience and instincts to make that determination.
Changes in behavior in response to questions should be noted. If the interviewer has taken the time to establish rapport with the subject, deceptive responses may be more obvious. Any one word or behavior on its own should not be considered an indicator of dishonesty. However, if the behavior is linked to a question about the subject’s involvement in the investigation there is a good chance that the behavior is an indicator of dishonesty. Behaviors should be consistent when the question is repeated, and deceptive signals typically occur in clusters. Following are behaviors that may indicate dishonesty:


  • Slumping over or leaning back in the chair;
  • Sitting in a way that protects the abdomen;
  • Shifting position in the chair – hands and arms;
  • Placing the hand over the mouth to muffle words or hide expressions;
  • Arms crossed with the thumbs extended. Legs and feet;
  • Nervous movement of legs and feet;
  • Legs crossed with the knee raised to protect the abdomen;
  • Legs crossed with arms holding the leg in place as a barrier – head and neck;
  • Head down can indicate a negative attitude or submission;
  • Head back looking down the nose; and
  • Head nodding or head shaking

Neurolinguistic eye movement can be an indicator of deception. Once the interviewer has determined the normal responses to questions he or she may be able to evaluate the truthfulness of a subject’s response based on eye movement. This concept is based on a belief that most people move their eyes in a certain direction when recalling and creating information. For example, if a subject is asked to recall the color of the shirt they wore the day before their eyes would move up and to their left while they retrieved the memory. If the subject decided to lie, their eyes would shift up and to the right while they created an answer. Recalling and creating sound memories are associated with eye movements directly left or right. Looking down and to the right is associated with creating tactile memories. And looking down and to the left is associated with internal dialogs or getting in touch with one’s feelings (Wicklander & Zulawski, 1993).

There are also verbal indicators of deception that interviewers must interpret. These may or may not be accompanied by an observable behavior. The most telling verbal indicators are when the words do not match the physical behaviors that accompany them, i.e., if the subject says “no” but shakes his or her head in a “yes” gesture. Following are some verbal indicators of dishonesty:

  • Skipping around in sentences
  • Stopping sentences or leaving off the end
  • Inappropriate laughter
  • Starting to speak in the third person
  • Telling the interviewer that they have done things (similar to the things currently under investigation) wrong in the past
  • Repeating the interviewer’s question
  • Asking the interviewer to repeat the question
  • Asking the interviewer “are you accusing me”?
  • Giving very short answers
  • Overgeneralizations (any, all, never, always etc.)
  • Saying “I can’t recall”

The following phrases are usually indicators that the subject is going to finish the sentence with a lie:

  • “I swear on the bible that I didn’t…”
  • “To tell you the truth…”
  • “To the best of my knowledge…”
  • “You may not believe this but…”
  • “I know that this sounds strange but…”

Overcoming Resistance

Identifying the subject’s dishonesty is an important part of an interrogation. However, the interviewer must be able to convince the subject to confess. Most interviewers use stories and rationalizations to move the subject closer to a confession. The stories are intended to convince the subject that he or she is not the first person to find themselves in their situation and that the first step to feeling better about the situation is to tell the truth. The stories that interviewers use may be real experiences or fabricated. Rationalizations are another important part of convincing a subject to confess. The interviewer presents possible reasons for the subject to have committed the crime. Presenting these rationalizations allows the subject to give a face-saving reply as to why they committed the crime. Finally, interviewers will often minimize the severity of the crime. This can be accomplished by softening the language used during the interview. In that way murder becomes “hurt”, theft becomes “take” etc. It is much easier for a subject to say that they borrowed a car without permission than to confess to carjacking.


A large part of the interrogation will involve the interviewer offering these rationalizations and stories combined with minimizing the subject’s actions. The investigator has to find a theme that the subject can relate to. Once that has happened, the subject’s behavior will change. The subject will enter submission and be ready to confess. Some signs of submission are:

  • Less forceful denials or lack of denials
  • Slumped and defeated posture
  • Eyes looking down
  • Teary eyes or crying
  • Letting out a sigh

At this point once when the interviewer again makes an accusation the subject should accept it and acknowledge his or her guilt. This acknowledgement may be just a small nod or a slightly audible “yes”. The investigator should try to keep the subject talking about the crime to prevent them from re-canting


Your goal is to find out what happened and how it happened, so you can prevent it from happening again. Conducting an interview is among the most challenging and rewarding tasks that an investigator will be called upon to perform. Often the outcome of an investigation is determined by the success or failure of the interviewer. Those that are interested in interviewing should practice, practice, practice. Quality training and practice will help you become successful at conducting interviews and gaining reward. There is no, one, interview methodology that works best. If possible, obtain training in a variety of methods. Understanding and being able to use a variety of techniques gives the interviewer more tools in his or her toolbox (Hoffman, 2005).

Following are some suggestions on where to obtain training:

Wicklander-Zulawski and Associates:
John E. Reid and Associates:
Stan B. Walters (Kinesic Interviewing):


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