Interviewing Skills

Before exploring types and purposes of interview methods, we first need to have a definition. What is the difference between an interview, and a simple chat between two or more people? 

For the purposes of this article, we’ll take Burgess’s (1984) definition, which suggests an interview is “…a conversation with a purpose.”

What’s great about this definition is that it has two main features that also support effective behaviour analysis practice.

The first point is that an interview is still a ‘conversation’, suggesting a more relaxed two or more dimensional interaction in which individuals are sharing information, rather than a combative environment that induces undue anxiety in the interviewee and actually slows down the process of getting information from people.

The second point adds “with a purpose,” which gives us some direction toward a goal of the interview, which is essential to keep us on track.

How many times have you been in meetings, conversations, or interviews that have ended without achieving what you set out to achieve? It probably led you to feeling frustrated and seemed like a waste of time. Having a purpose to keep us on track and a flexible interview framework to move us toward our goal is essential.

Interview Contexts

Deciding which style or method of interview is most appropriate to the context will depend on several factors, including how informal or formal the conversation is and what the end goal might be.

In general, though, the aim of an interview is to obtain accurate, relevant and complete information for the interviewee. This takes a broad knowledge, good communication skills, and a good level of emotional intelligence to perform effectively.

  • Informal conversational

    Given that we have a working definition of an interview as a ‘conversation with a purpose’, you may realise that the tools and techniques of the effective interviewer could be useful for informal conversations. Maybe a conversation with an employee about their performance in a job role… or identifying how you may best help a family member that is finding life difficult for one reason or another.

    This isn’t suggesting that you use the concepts here in every conversation that you have with your friends and loved ones. That would certainly lead to you losing friends and being invited to fewer parties.

    But it is a point that the effective interviewer opens a dialogue for information to be shared freely and encourages the interviewee to talk. The interviewer listens, hears, and seeks to understand another person… and in informal settings, this can be a rewarding experience for all parties involved in the interview or conversation.

  • Negotiation/sales

    In both sales and negotiation, reading the intent, motivation, and resistance of the other parties involved in the discussion is extremely important.

  • Recruitment

    Recruiting an individual for a job role can be a high stake situation, not just for the interviewee that is hoping for employment but also for the interviewer and the organisation they represent. Matching the right person to the role can be a challenging task and mistakes at the recruitment stage can have hugely detrimental effects on a business, especially when the positions being filled are high-level organisational management roles.

  • Investigative/Security/Criminal

    In today’s security conscious world, the role of the interviewer has never been more important in the security, intelligence, and law enforcement sectors. It’s fundamental to any investigative process to ensure that the information and intelligence gained from witnesses, suspects, and sources are accurate and complete. In these sectors the stakes are high and lives can be at risk if key information is missing or inaccurate.

    These interviews may be conducted in high profile and high-risk areas such as airports and other transport hubs and may or may not be covert. An example of a covert interview would be the work that we carried out in a European airport in which intelligence officers or undercover behaviour detection officers in an airport environment posed as fellow passengers in order to start a ‘conversation’ with a person that has aroused suspicion. They would then proceed to elicit information from that individual conversationally and without the use of obvious questioning (Lansley et al., 2017)

    Uniformed or armed personnel may also conduct interviews in these contexts, and in these situations, it’s vital to limit the contamination that the uniform, weapon or environmental context of an interview room has on the interview process. High levels of contamination can create anxiety that can interfere with the collection of behavioural data and lead interviewers to miss or misinterpret the behaviours.

Interview Methods

Whilst it’s beyond the remit of an article to cover ALL interview methods in existence to any depths, it’s still worth touching on some of the more well known investigative interview methods that you may come across.

  • PEACE and ECI

    The PEACE framework of interviewing was developed in 1992 in response to criticisms of a lack of consistency in the way interviews were conducted within the UK Police forces.

    PEACE is an acronym for Planning, Explain & Engagement, Account, Close, and Evaluate, and was created to give the police interview more structure and to help police officers increase the relevance, completeness, and reliability of the information obtained in interviews (Ord & Shaw, 1999).

    It was originally designed as a one-week training programme and whilst it did give more structure to the interview process it was found lacking in questioning guidance leading to poor questioning during interviews (Clarke and Milne, 2001). It has since been amended to ensure that the training includes internationally recognised interview concepts such as Free Recall, Enhanced Cognitive Interviewing, or Conversation Management.

  • Free Recall

    Free recall allows interviewees to give their account of what happened, in their own words and at their own pace, with no interruptions. The interviewer can then use various techniques to enhance the interviewee’s memory performance.

  • Enhanced cognitive interviewing

    Enhanced cognitive interviewing (Köhnken et al., 1999) is a sophisticated model, based on cognitive psychology processes, that builds on free recall, using additional techniques such as change of temporal order, reverse order, changing perspectives, sense/s utilisation, and memory jogs using context reinstatements. It is designed both to help recall and to motivate the subject without contamination of the account, especially where the interviewee is struggling with the recall of information.

  • Conversation Management (Shepherd & Griffiths, 2013)

    Developed by psychologist Eric Shepherd, the CM approach is founded on three core elements in order to build a working relationship with any interviewee, whether that’s a suspect or a witness. It is also for use on unwilling interviewees, defined by Milne & Bull (1999) as “interviewees who remain silent, who give ‘no comment’ responses, who are non-co-operative, hostile, lying, evasive, etc”

    It allows the officer to maintain control over the interview while generating high quantities of relevant information. The main differences between this model and Free Recall are the extent of control exerted by the interviewer, and that it includes a challenge stage where the interviewer uses evidence or inconsistencies to challenge the interviewee’s version of events.

    The three elements of CM are reciprocity, response, and a managed conversation sequence.

    Self-disclosure and the building of trust and respect on the part of the interviewer is required in order to build the bridge necessary for the open dialogue between interviewer and interviewee.

    An acronym for Respect, Empathy, Supportiveness, Positiveness, Openness, Non-Judgemental Attitude, Straightforward talk, Equals talking ‘across’ to each other. So as we can see the reciprocity and response elements are building on each other.

    Uses the GEMAC acronym:
    Greets the interviewee before… 
    Explaining the interview process fully, the interviewer and interviewee then engage in what Shepherd calls…
    Mutual Activity during which the topic or topics of the interview are explored in greater and greater detail, starting with a full account then probing with questions.
    Closure of the interview, which should aim to reinforce the relationship that has been developed and also explain any next steps.

    CM also uses a very unique methodology for note-taking or annotation of the interview in order to record details, timelines and information sources. This is known as SE3R which is an acronym for Survey, Extract, Read, Review and Respond. This technique focuses on the gradual extraction, build up, and review of information throughout an interview or on analysis of case documents.

  • REID Technique

    Developed by Inbau, Reid & Buckley (1986), the REID technique is an extremely popular technique for interviewing, predominantly in the US police forces but also other areas of the world. It is formed of three steps; the case file analysis, the non-accusatory behavioural interview, and the interrogation. However, the research today considers that this interview model is confrontational, and guilt-based, and has a higher possibility of leading to a contaminated interview process (Gudjonsson & Pearse, 2011) and potentially even false confessions through misclassification error (classifying innocents as guilty), coercion error (believing so strongly in a persons guilt, using threatening tactics to induce a confession), and contamination error (intentionally, or accidentally, providing interviewee with crime-related information and stating in court that they were the primary source of the information).

    The initial stage, case-file analysis, involves the investigators deciding on the direction of the interview, identify what details are currently known and decide which details are required including possible suspects, witness statements and other crime-related information.

    The second stage is an in-depth non-accusatory behavioural interview that is seeking to gain the required information and also to identify the truthfulness or deceptiveness of the interviewee using a list of behavioural indicators. If the interviewee is deemed to be deceptive/shows ‘signs of guilt’ then the interview moves to the third stage.

    The third and final stage is the interrogation; this is the stage that has received the most criticism (Kassin & Gudjonsson, 2004; Kassin et al., 2010; Gudjonsson & Pearse, 2011).

Is there a ‘best’ interview method?

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ for interviewing and one of the most important skills of any interviewer in any context is flexibility. Each interviewee brings their own issues, expectations, and idiosyncratic behaviours that the interviewer needs to adapt to, in order to make the best use of the time during the interview.

However, wherever possible the interview should be conducted in a non-oppressive way. We know from various studies, such as Gudjonsson and Pearse (2011) that false confessions are quite real and that manipulative and coercive interview tactics are associated to these, as is a lack of regard to interviewee’s vulnerabilities. For example, even the use of silence in an interview setting can be seen as oppressive by some interviewees and this will vary dramatically from culture to culture and person to person. Here in the UK, we’ll begin to talk about anything we can think of to break even a few seconds of silence, but in other parts of Europe, friends will sit happily in complete silence for several minutes.

The most effective principle of interviewing is to have the mindset of ‘genuine interest in understanding another human being’. And using the most appropriate questions to elicit information from the interviewee that, in a criminal context, increases the amount of non-coerced disclosures of information or true-confessions; and reduces the chance of deceptive responses or false confessions.

Elicitation vs. Interviewing

There are times when a more casual interviewing process is required. In this context, the ‘interview’ may appear not to have any of the key hallmarks of the interview process at all and may appear to be a simple conversation to the subject/interviewee. In fact, in some cases, much information can be gained from an unknowing interviewee without even asking a single question. This is the concept known as ‘elicitation’.

We define elicitation as “a process used to draw out information from people, during a conversation with a purpose, often without them realizing the elicitor’s purpose for doing so.” (Lansley, 2017).

Elicitation is a common technique in the intelligence and security sectors, often in undercover work, but is also utilised by penetration testers, social engineers, and, given its covert nature, also by criminals and scammers.

It plays on our psychological need for other people to like us, our desire to be seen as knowledgable, our appreciation of flattery and our need or willingness to correct wrong information and errors in communication. By leveraging these simple human factors, information can be elicited.

It can be far more rewarding (in the level of information disclosed) for the interviewer if they use to combine a non-oppressive interview style, with points of elicitation techniques. To the person being interviewed, it’s important that they feel they are engaged in a “simple, light, airy conversation” (Hadnagy 2011: 58). Keeping the anxiety low in an interview not only makes for a more relaxing atmosphere it actually has a neurochemical impact, as stress hormones in the blood actually reduce the capacity for memory recall (e.g. Tranel et al., 2006; Buchanan & Tranel, 2008)


In order to make our way through the world from day-to-day, we rely on our brains making some of the decisions for us automatically. In psychology these are known as ‘heuristics’, and in Nevid’s (2012) book “Psychology: Concepts and Applications”, they are defined as “A rule of thumb used as an aid in solving problems or making judgments or decisions”.

We all have them, for example, I know that ‘ovens and irons are hot, so I don’t touch them’, and it has served me well and prevented me burning myself since childhood. But many of us have less obvious mental shortcuts; including those for how we judge the people we interact with both professionally and personally.

These biases and heuristics have been developed by remembering past experiences but also by social, cultural, and family conditioning. For example, a man that has been raised being told, “Boys don’t cry,” may draw the incorrect conclusion that a crying military male must be weak… So these biases can distort our reality and cause us to make judgments that are far from accurate.

Specific to the field of investigative interviewing, for example, studies show we are more likely to believe a testimony that has emotional language as well as alleged facts as more honest than testimonies that include facts alone. This is known as the Falsifiability Heuristic (Fiedler & Walka, 1993).

Many people also associated attractive faces to the characteristic of honesty due to the Facial Appearance Heuristic (Vrij, 2004). That’s why marketing companies use attractive actors to promote their client’s products.

And a final example, which is a very common issue for interviewers, is that of the Anchoring Bias (Elaad, 2003). We often make, sometimes even before an interaction, an assumption on the level of truthfulness or deceptiveness of a communication. We then look for evidence to back up our initial assumption and ignore evidence that contradicts it.

This is only a small selection of unconscious biases and heuristics that many of us unknowingly use in an interview situation. Whilst we can’t always ‘remove’ these biases, being aware of our biases and prejudices, and having an open and inquisitive mind throughout any communication, is certainly the best option.


This brief journey into the world of interviewing has demonstrated that there is a range of options for the interviewer to use during investigations. It is dependent on the interviewer and the context to decide which of the methods are most appropriate for the interview and interviewee. Obviously, the legal, moral, ethical aspects of any interview must also be taken into account.

Having an awareness of, not only the context, but the level of anxiety being promoted in the interviewee, and also any biases/prejudices that may be affecting the interviewer cannot be emphasised enough.

But in short, we know that in order to get good, uncontaminated information from an individual, we need to provide a non-oppressive environmental context, non-oppressive and non-accusatory questioning styles (maybe even some elicitation), and a genuine interest in wanting to understand the human being in front of us.

Further Information


Buchanan, T. W., & Tranel, D. (2008). Stress and emotional memory retrieval: Effects of sex and cortisol response. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. 89, 134-141.

Burgess, R.G. (1984) In the Field: An Introduction to Field Research. London: Unwin Hyman.

Clarke, C., & Milne, R. (2001). A national evaluation of the PEACE Investigative Interviewing Course. London, Home Office.

Elaad, E., (2003). Effects of feedback on the overestimated capacity to detect lies and the underestimated ability to tell lies. Applied Cognitive Psychology: The Official Journal of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 17(3), pp.349-363.

Fiedler, K. and Walka, I., (1993). Training lie detectors to use nonverbal cues instead of global heuristics. Human communication research, 20(2), pp.199-223.

Gudjonsson, G., & Pearse, J. (2011). Suspect Interviews and False Confessions. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 20, 33-37.

Hadnagy, C. (2011). Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking. Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, Inc.

Inbau, F.E., Reid, J.E. & Buckley, J.P. (1986). Criminal interrogation and confessions. Williams & Watkins: Baltimore.

Kassin, S.M., & Gudjonsson, G.H. (2004). The psychology of confessions: A review of the literature and issues. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5, 33–67.

Kassin, S.M., Drizin, S.A., Grisso, T., Gudjonsson, G.H., Leo, R.A., & Redlich, A.P. (2010). Police-induced confessions: Risk factors and recommendations. Law and Human Behavior, 34, 3–38.

Köhnken, G., Milne, R., Memon, A., & Bull, R. (1999). The cognitive interview: A meta-analysis. Psychology, Crime & Law. 5, 3-27.

Lansley, C.A. (2017). Getting to the Truth: A Practical, Scientific Approach to Behaviour Analysis for Professionals. Sevenoaks: Emotional Intelligence Academy Ltd.

Lansley, C., Garner, A., Archer, D.E., Dimu, R., Blanariu, C., & Losnita, S., (2017). Observe, Target, Engage, Respond (OTER): High-stake behaviour analysis using an integrated, scientific approach within an airport context. White Paper Series: EIA/SRI/OTP.

Nevid, J., 2012. Psychology: Concepts and applications. Nelson Education.

Ord, B. & Shaw, G., (1999). Investigative Interviewing Explained. The New Police Bookshop. Surrey.

Shepherd, E., & Griffiths, A., (2013). Investigative interviewing: the conversation management approach. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Tranel, D., Adolphs, R., & Buchanan, T. W. (2006). Impaired Memory Retrieval Correlates with Individual Differences in Cortisol Response but Not Autonomic Response. Learning & Memory. 13, 382-387.

Vrij, A., (2004). Why professionals fail to catch liars and how they can improve. Legal and criminological psychology, 9(2), pp.159-181.

Aaron Garner
Article by Aaron Garner

Specialist in reading emotions and the evaluation of truth, credibility and deception. Aaron holds a MSc degree in Emotions, Credibility and Deception.

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