In an ideal world, there would be little to no ambiguity surrounding the ‘facts’ of a workplace investigation. Accounts provided by witnesses would always be consistent, making it relatively straightforward to determine exactly what has occurred.
In reality, it is not uncommon for people to present two very different sets of facts when recalling the same event.
Some of the time, there are perfectly innocent and understandable reasons for these inconsistencies – people can be honestly mistaken about what they saw, or memories can change over time.
But in some cases, people do have a motivation to lie. And the truth is, most of us do lie sometimes, usually harmless ‘white lies’, but not always; researchers estimate the average person lies a minimum of once to twice per day and that as much as 13% of the population are ‘pathological liars’ – those who tell more than an average of 10 lies per day!
In the workplace, conversations often take place in private, meaning there may not be any witnesses available to corroborate a complaint. But it’s important to remember that discrimination, harassment, or criminal activity can still occur even without substantiating external evidence or witnesses.
In these instances, a workplace investigator must weigh different versions of an event and assess each party’s credibility. This is no easy task.
Professional workplace investigators employ several methodologies that help assess credibility, and most consider the PEACE Model for interviewing to be the industry standard.
Let’s take a look at the PEACE model and some considerations when it comes to assessing credibility in a workplace investigation.
What is the PEACE Model?
First developed in the 1990s, the PEACE model was originally conceived as an interview method to help law enforcement reduce the number of false confessions that were occurring due to aggressive interview style.
PEACE stands for Preparation & Planning, Engage & Explain, Account, Closure and Evaluation.
Preparation & Planning-
You’ll need to lay the groundwork to ensure you have a comprehensive understanding of the case. Identify who needs to be interviewed, what topics you will need to cover and what available evidence must be gathered, proven, or clarified.
Engage & Explain-
It is essential to make the interview environment as comfortable and accessible as possible. Your interview subject should clearly understand the purpose of the interview, and the conversation should always be conducted in a non-confrontational manner.
You can help encourage an accurate recollection of an event using both cognitive approach and conversation management methods.
Cognitive Approach – first, without interrupting or asking questions, ask the subject to describe the event allowing them to fill in the gaps without any prompts. Then, ask them to recall the event again, in reverse order or from a different perspective.
Conversation Management – have the subject recall the event, then divide their story into sections. For each section, probe for further details, then summarize each segment to fill in all the gaps. If you notice any contradictory information, ask them to clarify.
Offer the subject a summary of the main points of their story, allowing them to correct errors or provide additional information where necessary.
Now you can evaluate each interview and the information provided to determine if there are any gaps where further interviews may be necessary. You can also take this opportunity to reflect on your process and where you may need to improve.
In addition to employing the PEACE method, there are a number of other questions you can ask yourself to help assess the credibility of varying accounts of an event, including:
- Is their story consistent with other evidence you have gathered?
- Did they actually see what happened, or is it based on hearsay?
- What is their motivation? Do they potentially have a reason to be deceptive?
- Did their story remain consistent every time they told it?
- Who else have they shared their story with (and vice versa)? Could this be impacting what they are telling you?
- How reliable is their memory? Has a lot of time passed since the incident? Could other cognitive biases be at play?
As is likely clear by now, determining credibility when faced with a competing version of events is no easy task, but there are methods that can help.
And when the outcome of a workplace investigation relies on making a decision about credibility, following a documented process is essential.
Workplace investigations are hard, and following a proven methodology is critical for conducting a fair, thorough and compliant investigation.
Reach out to us today to learn how our experienced workplace investigators can help.
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