Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Interviewing a Witness

Part of my responsibilities as HPIR's Historical Research Manager is to do the in-depth, formal interviews of our clients during residential cases.  This part of the job is rarely boring, and is extremely vital to the investigation.  A good interview with the right questions and the right research can lead the investigation down the path it needs to go in, ensuring that we're doing what is best for the client, but also ensuring the best possible outcomes for probable evidence collection and verification.

The tips below aren't really layed out in any specific order.  They came from what I believe was originally a question posed on a message board on how to conduct interviews.  While not completely comprehensive by any means, this collection of my personal tips should come in handy to new investigators!

*When interviewing a client, its always good to obtain permission to video tape or at least run a voice recorder....this will help in fact checking later on, in case you missed something while taking notes, and also another opportunity to gain EVP evidence. We've found that entities sometimes like to chime in when a person is being interviewed! You may also just want to have other equipment easily available in case something starts going on...a camera, emf meter, etc.

*Make the client as comfortable as possible and establish rapport.  It is okay to make small talk, but don't go on and on about yourself or your own paranormal issues.  Find common ground, but don't blab your life story or anything that will effect the outcome of the interview--you want to remain an unbiased and objective documenter, but still maintain a level of empathy.  Also, choose a time and location free of outside distractions.  Due to time constraints, most of our formal interviews occur shortly before the actual investigation, on location--pick a place away from where the set-up and such is going on.  Allow plenty of time to complete the interview thoroughly.  I always like to have a beverage if the client so wishes, especially if there is a LOT of talking, extra batteries for my recorder, extra pens, plenty of notebook space, cough drops and tissues easily at my disposal.

* Interview witnesses independently of each other, so that they aren't feeding off each other's stories. If interviewing a child (ANYONE under 18), always gain parental permission, and choose your words, tone, and questions carefully, and be prepared for a short attention span. Sometimes providing crayons and paper and having the child DRAW what they've seen or experienced is most beneficial. If the parent wishes to be present during the interview, brief the parent beforehand to not coach or coerce the child during the interview.

*Be careful not to ask leading questions. It's okay to urge a client on for more details, but be careful about putting words into their own mouths. Save your analysis and input for later. Be empathetic, but don't make any judgments about whether or not there is a paranormal issue or not at this point.

*Use tact and tread lightly....but be as thorough as possible. Many touchy subjects such as health issues, drug/alcohol abuse, domestic violence/family problems, and religious beliefs DO play a huge role in what the client is experiencing and how he or she is perceiving such events. Reiterate that any information obtained will be kept strictly confidential, and is only being obtained to ensure that the best possible plan is put into place to help them.

*Make sure you have several ways of contacting the client. I've never experienced it personally, but you always hear of stories where "something" tries to interfere with an investigation and make contact very hard...always try to get at least 2 phone numbers, a mailing address, and an email address if applicable.  Also make sure your client has several ways to contact YOU as well.  Always bring plenty of business cards.

*You should never interview a client completely by yourself. Someone else should always be with you, and if that isn't feasible, the initial interview should be conducted in a relatively public place. You'll never know when a mentally unstable client will become violent or irrational....or even need medical attention. Plus, its always nice to have another set of eyes and ears.

*Pay attention to body language.  There are some sites listed below that can help you determine if a person is being untruthful, but remember your best complement to a good interview is good research and fact checking.

*There are numerous resources, both online and in print, that outline ideas for possible interview questions. Those are great, but try to tailor your questions to fit that particular case as well.  I'll be posting my personal outline of questions in the near future.  Pre-investigation questionnaires are also great to get the basics and contact info, and determine whether or not a case should be considered, but more formal and thorough interviewing is always required later on.


EXCELLENT article from Southwest Ghost Hunters Association on Interviewing Witnesses

Article on how to read body language

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