Investigators' Demeanor During Interviews and Interrogations

Written By: Philip A. Mullenix
Aug 10, 2022

This article explores how an investigator's own bearing and emotional self-control promote mutuality of respect with even the toughest of subjects and enhance the productivity of every questioning session.

The ability to command respect from a subject during an interview or interrogation is a hallmark of the professional investigator. This is not achieved merely by demanding it from a subject. Instead, respect is freely accorded in response to several factors, including an investigator’s own demeanor during the questioning session.

Mutuality of respect is the cornerstone of rapport under the Reid Technique. All subjects respond well when treated with respect. This is not to be confused with a “false friend” approach in which an investigator attempts to disingenuously ingratiate himself or herself to the subject through compliments or small talk. Such an approach projects weakness and encourages subjects to resist or even manipulate the questioning process.

Instead, respect toward an investigator is a natural outgrowth of the investigator’s bearing which starts with self-confidence. Truthful subjects become increasingly comfortable during a questioning session when they sense that the investigator is supremely self-assured. Deceptive subjects are unnerved by it. While everyone respects self-confidence, nobody responds favorably to arrogance which will cause a truthful subject to withdraw and a deceptive subject to become argumentative. Neither of those reactions are productive. Therefore, investigators must exercise caution not to deliberately or inadvertently cross the line into arrogance.

Intimidation of a subject is unnecessary. Investigators are sufficiently authoritative just by virtue of who they are, the work they do, and the confidence they should properly project. Overt displays of power during a questioning session (such as overplayed eye contact, visible weapons, unnecessary restraints, or badges) are counterproductive. A sharp mind is the interrogator’s principal weapon, and it’s that mental discipline that even the toughest subject will respect the most.

Just as investigators methodically “size up” a subject during a questioning session (for relevant personality traits, intellectual level, precipitators, language and behavior patterns), subjects viscerally size-up their interviewer for possible signs of weakness, uncertainty, or other vulnerabilities to exploit to their advantage. For that reason, a professional interrogator must be mindful of his or her own emotional self-control if a street-sharp subject attempts to insult or otherwise incite the investigator. Certainly, a disrespectful statement by a subject must be immediately and definitively handled. But if an investigator takes the bait and falls victim to genuine anger, then his or her own clarity of thought becomes clouded. The result is a loss of respect in the eyes of the subject and a failed mission in the room.

On rare occasions, a subject may act out aggressively during an interrogation. Under those circumstances, an interrogator is severely tested. Professionalism requires, however, that the interrogator maintain control of the communication dynamic. The objective is to elicit the truth, not to engage the subject in a collateral argument or physical altercation. The recommended approach is to maintain a steady voice, sustain the interrogation by speaking into the empty chair for another 15 to 20 seconds if a subject has arisen from it, and then using a palms-up open-hand gesture politely command the subject to return to the chair. Ninety percent of the time they’ll not only be seated but will be intellectually vulnerable to disclosing information in the immediate aftermath of the adrenaline response triggered by their emotional outburst. Among those, most will later apologize for their behavior if the interrogator successfully holds the line. When he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell displayed a plaque on his desk which read: “Of all the manifestations of power, restraint impresses people the most.” That point is equally appropriate within the interrogation room as it is on the battlefield.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the investigator’s attitude during a questioning session must be objective and non-judgmental. Not only will this boost rapport based upon mutuality of respect but it will be a catalyst for truthful disclosures. Confirmation bias is a poison pill to an investigator’s pursuit of the truth which will be lost if an investigator fails to maintain positive control over his or her own objectivity. This includes vocal and non-verbal expressions which might otherwise leak from an investigator during a questioning session. John Reid’s admonition to all of his understudies was to “be an actor” in the room. If a perpetrator senses an interrogator’s utter disdain toward the criminal or the misconduct, then the likelihood of a truthful disclosure is impaired. A case in point involved the interrogation of a woman who dismembered her husband. During a post-confession debriefing, she explained that she admitted her behavior because (unlike the initial investigators who she said showed facial expressions and voice inflections that reflected revulsion at what she had done) the Reid interrogator did not express any negative feelings, did not judge her, and viewed her objectively.

Professionalism requires poise under fire. Every investigator will be well-served by checking that box before entering the room when the fate of a suspect, the vindication of a victim, and the integrity of evidence hang in the balance of justice.


Philip A. Mullenix has been affiliated with John E. Reid & Associates, Inc., since 1978 and provides instruction in the Reid Technique to United States’ military personnel as well as to federal, state, and local law enforcement officers.

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