The Art of asking Questions during an Internal Investigation

Author: Teri Morning
The art of asking questions during an internal investigation needs to be developed by every investigator. Every employee will be curious about what the corporate investigator is going to ask. In the same way every investigator will be apprehensive as to how to start an interview? The best way to start an interview is by asking general questions like “do you know why I wanted to talk with you today?” Or “do you know why you’re here?” If yes, ask them what they know. Clarify who talked to them, where, when, what was communicated, and were there other persons present, if yes, who? Were they advised as to any course of action? If yes, what, when, where and were others present, if yes, who? Was it a supervisor or member of a management? Any e-mails, texts, VM of the exchange. Establish if witness has been coached or threatened. Put witness at ease if he/she was coached or threatened. Discuss retaliation. You may even hold a second investigation depending on the conduct.
Good Questions to Get Good Answers
How to ask good questions to get good answers? Remember the 5 “Ws” and a “H” rule to get more specific answers on the employee complaints. Ask what was observed, not seen or heard. In what order did events happen. Always try to avoid loaded questions, accusatory questions, multiple compound questions and leading questions. Use open-ended questions and closed-ended questions.
Choosing Interview Questions
During any employee investigation, ask specific questions to get specific answers. You gather the best information by crafting careful questions, accurate capture of facts and some borderline observations. HR can make the best and worst investigator by invoking feelings like why am I talking to this person? Am I in trouble? Let them tell their accounting in their own way, be patient and listen to them.
Tips for Interviewing
Never make promises of benefit or threats of adverse action. Recognize when you need a separate employee investigation. Use open ended questions mostly - 5 Ws and one H over and over. For clarification, details, get a straight answer or get someone back on track. Ask questions a different way later if required eg: continuing the talk by asking “and then what happened?”
Baseline Questions to be Asked
Baseline questions would include questions like how long have you worked here? How did you get started with the company? What is your current position? Where did you work before coming to this department? What other jobs/positions have you held in the company? What does an XYZ do? What are your duties and responsibilities?
Question to hit the Bullseye
The goal of the interview must be to recreate the scene and gather accurate facts. For each issue inquire: Exactly what occurred? When did it happen? Where did it happen? Who was present? Who else may have relevant information? How did it happen? Who did or said what? In what order? (E.g. touching, safety), Why did it happen? Could it have been avoided? Are there any notes, documents, or other evidence? and so on. One must keep in mind that people are not video units, most are vague in their recollections and have experienced in their own way. Give them time to recall at least 8 seconds to begin answering. Always set aside more time than you think you’ll need. Don’t express opinions or agreement. Don’t assume. Don’t record opinions.

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