The Key to a Good Interview is Silence
We wrote in our pieces "What Greg Smith and Goldman Sachs Tell Us About Investigations" and "Hiring Due Diligence Should Include an Attitude Check" about how indispensable it is to talk to people during an investigation. No matter how thorough a database may be, no matter how savvy your search terms are or how much you've actually managed to pull up via an expansive public records search, picking up and calling someone is often the key to a successful investigation.
Clients, many of whom are highly concerned about maintaining secrecy and protecting their privacy, are often understandably reticent to have us pick up the phone. And so we make a point of exhausting all database searches first before moving on to this step, just in case we can find what we need via public records or court cases.
When we do get to the stage where a call is the logical next step, we ease our clients’ concerns by arranging with them in advance of any calls a template of what we’re going to say. That way our clients can rest assured that we've taken the appropriate measures to protect their identity while still representing ourselves ethically and honestly.
Although we plan in advance what we’re going to say, we always tell clients that we can’t guarantee that we will stick to the script verbatim—conversations tend to move around, topics get discussed earlier or later than expected, sometimes we just don’t get to some topics at all. But we do promise them that we will be attentive to the information they do or do not want revealed.
Usually, however, it’s not just what we say that makes a difference between a home run interview and a strike out. Often success depends on what we don’t say: A confident interviewer knows that there is great value in pauses. It is in those silences after a question has been answered, before moving on to the next question, that you often learn a great deal about the person you’re speaking with. Very often people will keep speaking, and they will start to tell you more than just the answer to the question you asked.
You just have to be calm and confident that handing over control of where the conversation is heading will not derail the call. You can always work on getting the interviewee back on track later. But in the meanwhile, remain flexible and attentive to what’s said after you have your answer. What you learn may be completely unexpected and just what you were looking for.