Interview techniques

The Reid Technique is one of the more known and familiar interrogation and interview techniques used by law enforcement.  We mostly become familiar with interrogation methods because of court-martial pretrial motions practice to suppress coerced or false confessions.  The value of various police interrogation techniques is not limited to police interrogations.  A trial counsel or a defense counsel preparing for a court-martial can benefit from knowing, understanding, and practicing some of the law enforcement interview and  interrogation techniques.  (NOTE, it is unethical for an attorney to lie during a witness interview, be careful, that is one technique that is not permitted.  And it is unethical for a counsel to fail to identify themselves as a prosecutor or defense counsel when interviewing witnesses.)

Before I begin an interview, especially with a complaining witness in sexual assault case, I want to know about that person.  At the first contact, and from then on, I constantly assess the person:  their emotions, their physical and emotional responses, their word choice, their mannerisms.  I’m doing that because I want to establish rapport.  (You should of course do the same to the client.)  I’ve said this many times, but I’ve frequently been the one to educate the prosecution witnesses on the process and what’s going on and why.  That has benefitted me and my client numerous times.  The “victim” appreciates you for telling them what’s going on.  I cannot remember how many times a “victim” tells me that no one will tell them what’s going on.  Defense counsel — this is your moment to establish rapport.

If you establish rapport with a witness you will get more information, the witness will respond better to you, and the witness may be less antagonistic to the client.  I had not realized that at least one author calls this “isopraxis.”  I know it as mirroring.

Whether preparing for an interview or meeting with an informant, investigators should spend a significant amount of time planning for the most important part of any human interaction—creating and building rapport. Consistently building rapport with various individuals of different genders and ages who represent diverse backgrounds, educational levels, experiences, ethnicities, and mental health concerns proves challenging to many law enforcement professionals. Everyone has their own personality and preference for how they like to give and receive information.

One of the most powerful and proven ways of establishing rapport is isopraxis, or mirroring another’s behavior.  [See, Joe Navarro, What Every Body Is Saying (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2008), 27, 90.]  From the time people are born, they learn to share mirroring behaviors. . . . People find comfort in and, therefore, seek mirroring behaviors. They also discover solace in processing information presented consistent with their personality and preferences.

Personality mirroring corresponds with nonverbal mirroring—it tries to match the thought process and style of communication a person prefers. Some people like to socialize as part of the communication process, while others prefer a more direct, task-oriented tact. People tend to favor information that they receive in a pleasing manner, and, consequently, they become more attentive and receptive. Studies have shown that individuals have different personality types for processing information, as well as preferences for how they give and receive information.  Investigators who assess for such traits can effortlessly mirror communication styles to conduct more effective interviews and better develop informants. To demonstrate this concept, the authors offer an overview of a law enforcement professional’s attempts to develop a source and his partner’s assistance in doing so.

The rapport building method is not limited to witness interviews.  To some extent voir dire is a process of building rapport, as can be cross-examination, direct examination.  Gauging who you are dealing with is all part of situational awareness in case preparation and court-room presentation.

Here is the link to Dreeke and Navarro, Behavioral Mirroring in Interviewing, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, December 2009.


The challenge that Wilson faced often occurs in the law enforcement profession. Investigators encounter individuals with whom they just cannot seem to make a connection or develop rapport, not only during the interview but in human source development as well. Analyzing people for particular personality and communication styles and then mirroring those traits can prove key when investigators attempt to build relationships. Law enforcement personnel who use this behavioral tool will foster stronger rapport and glean valuable information in the furtherance of their cases.

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2 responses to “Interview techniques”

  1. Robert Keteyian says:

    I truly enjoyed reading your article. I’ve developed a framework for identifying individual communication styles which is naturally validating because it taps into the person’s processing style. You might find this useful. If you’d like to more, visit:

  2. Robert Keteyian says:

    Although mirroring is a skill, it comes naturally to some and functions more as an instinct. Having supervised many mental health professionals, I’ve observed how variable this skill/trait really is. I believe it accounts for why so many non-professional are just as, if not more effective, than trained professionals in giving psychological help. Establishing rapport, as you say, is an essential ingredient in getting reliable information in any kind of interviewing.

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