Kevin Barrows is a former FBI special agent who now conducts traditional corporate fraud investigations, reputation risk and due diligence efforts, and supervises computer forensic and computer crime assignments for Renaissance Associates.

What We Discuss with Kevin Barrows:

  • Why conducting a successful interview is an art that requires establishing credibility, understanding motivation, employing psychology, assessing body language, and listening.
  • Why approaching a witness at an inconvenient time, in the wrong place, or in the wrong way can ruin an interview before it gets started.
  • How to quickly identify the motivation of the person being interviewed.
  • How to make the truth the only option for the person being interviewed.
  • How to create and execute a game plan to get to that truth — whether it’s with our spouse, our kids, or our colleagues and employees.
  • And much more…

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I recently took a few courses from expert interrogators and became fascinated with the idea that there are some people who are so good with questions that we as a society rely on their skills to solve crimes, prevent catastrophes, and get to the truth in a lot of very important, often life-or-death situations.

On this episode, former FBI special agent Kevin Barrows teaches us the fundamentals of interrogation. He’s a fraud investigator who focuses on large-scale money laundering and internal investigations for major financial institutions and white collar crime, and what he shares with us here applies as much to those investigations as it does to parenting or managing a business. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

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As Kevin Barrows, former FBI special agent now lending his investigative and interrogative — though he might prefer the less negatively associated term “interviewing” — skills knows, conducting a successful interview is an art. It requires establishing credibility, understanding motivation, employing psychology, assessing body language, and listening.

Whether the interviewee is an employee suspected of embezzling thousands of dollars from your company or your first grader trying to wiggle out of admitting their part in The Great Cookie Robbery of 2019, the goal is to make the truth the only option for the interviewee.

A big part of ensuring this outcome is knowing the optimal time, place, and manner of preparing for the interview. Sometimes this involves a show of force that leaves the interviewee no choice in when, where, and how the interview will take place, but most of the time you want to make it seem that the circumstances are aligning to the benefit of the person being interviewed so they’ll agree to be questioned without resistance.

Approaching a witness at an inconvenient time, or the wrong place, or in the wrong way can ruin an interview before it gets started. Careful consideration to many factors must be given to when to approach a witness (day, night, before or after dinner, weekend, etc.), whether to approach the witness at home, work, or school and how to initially and introduce who you are and the purpose of the interview.

“Time, place, and manner is simply thinking of those things that other people don’t think of,” says Kevin. “When is the right time to go speak with this person? How should I approach this person — how are they most receptive?”

Having a game plan going into the discussion is crucial. You want to pick the right time of day, when the mood is right and there’s less of a chance that anger or hostility will be expressed.

Like the old saying goes, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Angry and accusatory questioning breeds the same response, but understanding the motivation of the person being questioned and framing your questions in the context of this motivation will get you much better results.

For example, if it’s an employee who has a desire to be respected, it would be wise to speak positively about the quality of the employee’s work, dedication, competency, and dependability. If you’re dealing with a juvenile susceptible to peer pressure, it may be beneficial to be sympathetic. Say something like, “I understand the pressures and difficulties of being a teenager, and I had a similar experience…”

“I like to learn as much information through public records and social media about a person, try to get a vibe for who they are,” says Kevin. “And then from there, I say this might be the best time to approach this person. It’s a calculated risk. I know if they have kids, or I know if they’ve got an active social life they’ll be out late on Friday night — so let’s not go Saturday morning, because they’re going to be hung over. Those kinds of things, atmospherically, timing, you can determine in advance based upon their lifestyle.”

Establishing credibility with the interviewee is imperative. The person being questioned will constantly be evaluating you to determine if you’re worthy of receiving the truth. They’ll be trying to figure out of you really care about their situation. They want to believe that you understand who they are, that you appreciate their perspective, and that you’re on their side. If they read that you’re being disingenuous rather than sympathetic, it could mean the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful interview.

Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about how to gather information about someone before you interview them, how to use that information to generate rapport with the interviewee, what spells the difference between respect that will make for a successful interview and disdain that breaks it, ways to guide an interviewee toward the understanding it’s in their best interests to tell you the truth, the surprising confessions that can be brought out by simply asking “If you were me, what would you think?” and much more.


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