How to Build Rapport in Investigation Interviews

How to Build Rapport in Investigation Interviews

Effective rapport building results from conversation between the interviewer and subject, rather than traditional questioning.

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Building and maintaining rapport are essential in conducting any type of interview. Without good rapport there is a lack of credibility and trust and without trust and credibility, true communication is impossible. An interviewer who doesn’t have a firm grasp of these concepts will not obtain any truly relevant information.

At a prestigious national small-business conference in Washington, DC, recently, during a presentation that focused on hiring the best people, an influential CEO said that interviewing potential employees was a waste of time. This remark was surprising and it was difficult at first to reconcile this revered CEO’s statement with actual experience.

It wasn’t until about a month later that, after reflecting on the CEO’s comments, it became clear that he must not ever have considered the conversational nature of an interview. Interviews in his line of work, as well as most business types, are probably sterile and lacking in warmth and rapport.

The Mechanics of Rapport and Baseline

The essential element needed to build rapport in order to interrogate someone, collect intelligence, or even to select a new employee, is the realization that communication lies at the heart of each of these tasks.

Two effective means for building rapport are:

  • mirroring
  • developing shared experiences

Both of these methods of rapport building can be used in conversations as varied as neighborhood block parties and negotiations with tribal elders in a war-torn Iraq.

The essential element needed to build rapport in order to interrogate someone, collect intelligence, or even to select a new employee, is the realization that communication lies at the heart of each of these tasks. Once we understand that we are essentially just communicating, it is much easier to elicit an actionable response from those with whom we are communicating. These two processes, if subtly initiated, can go a long way in building rapport and, ultimately, getting to the heart of the matter.


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There are two critical things that we need to note in using the mirroring technique.

  1. The mirroring technique is not sinister. There is no magic to it, just a simple and subtle method of shared rhythm.
  2. The concept should be employed subtly, and we’d stress that overtly copying someone’s behavior and mannerisms would not be beneficial in having a good interview.

Emotive mirroring can be described as identifying with an individual’s mental state. Active listening is crucial. Accurately applying active listening and general knowledge of the emotional state that someone could be in during the interview setting allows you to meet their need for active communication and open up potential information flow.

You should seek to understand the emotive state of each person you are going to interview. To accomplish this, do research on the individual prior to meeting with them. This can be as difficult as an in-depth background history including interviewing associates and prior contacts, or as simple as reviewing an employment application. Also, understand that they may be nervous and potentially uncooperative.

Shared Experience

At this point in the rapport building stage an interviewer might speak about the traffic congestion on the way into work that morning or some other experience that the interviewee shares. This allows the interviewee to humanize the interviewer and will help to relax both participants as well as act as a building block of communication.

Talking about a subject in common permits an unrestricted, reciprocal exchange of dialogue, wherein the interviewer reveals personal information, facts, sentiments or interpretations. It cannot be stressed enough that real rapport building is based in conversation between the interviewer and the interviewee rather than traditional questioning.

Interviewers must understand the interviewee’s individual needs and characteristics which are central to building rapport with various personalities. Part of this understanding is that interviewers should gauge the receptiveness of the interviewee to determine the level of comfort that is gained by these types of rapport building.

Constant Assessment and Adjustment

Rapport building is a constant give and take situation, where you must gauge the interviewee’s responses to your actions and questions, and then make subtle adjustments to build and maintain rapport. Establishing this baseline rapport with the interviewee allows you to subtly direct the conversation. Armed with good rapport, you can elicit truthful answers from your interviewee while eliminating the unnecessary hurdles of distrust and emotionally charged behavior.