Employees caught up in the stress of a discussion about their potential misconduct can exhibit certain specific semantic behaviors and word choices as they tried to lessen, hide, or distract the security investigator from asking hard questions to discover the real truth. The discussion often shifts from an interview—which you do with all involved employees as you try to differentiate from being either witnesses or participants—to an interrogation, where you begin to pin down the person’s illegal or unethical behaviors.
During this transition from an interview to an interrogation, it’s common to see these behavior-based verbal clues and revealing statements that are often connected to people trying to lie and cover up wheat they have done. Consider your past interrogations, and recall how many times you have heard employees say these same things. When you ultimately discovered their activities or they finally admitted their involvement in illegal or unethical acts, you probably heard many versions of these same themes:
Statements of restriction: “That’s really all I can tell you. I wish I could tell you more, but I really can’t. It’s not really for me to say what happened.”
Hyper-swearing: “I swear on a stack of Bibles,” “I swear on my grandmother’s grave,” “I swear on the lives of my children …” “As God is my witness in this room here now ….”
Answering a question with a question: “Steal money? Why would I ever steal money? I have a good job. Why would I need to do something like that?” “Who said I stole money?”
Answering a yes/no question with a non-yes/no answer: “Have you ever threatened a coworker?” “Well, what do you mean by ‘threatened’?”
Language softeners: Saying “I took” versus “I stole,” “I bumped” versus “I injured that other person,” “I just sort of touched” versus “I groped that person.”
Overly-defensive anger: “How dare you accuse me of that! I’m going to sue you!”
Minimizing the punishment: “What do you think should happen to a person who steals from his company?” “Well, everybody does things for a reason. He needs to be given a second chance.”
Escape-the-room body language: Subtly turning away from the interviewer to face the door.
Using small body language movements: Micro-shrugging their shoulders during their answers; placing their hands over their mouths during their answers to “cover up” their responses.
Minimizing: “I only hit him once and it wasn’t that hard. I just tapped him. What’s the big deal?”
Denying: “I wasn’t even there when the fight started. You have me confused with someone else. If I was there, it was at the end.”
Rationalizing: “He started the fight; I just finished it.”
Blaming: “I’m under a lot of stress here. I work too much overtime. You all drove me to get into a fight because of the pressure around here.”
The presence of these types of lie-covering, truth-averting, or semantic distractions can offer you important clues as you begin to move from the fact-finding phase to the guilty-party phase of your investigation.