One of the questions that comes up over and over in various forums, especially geared towards senior investigators, is what character traits or qualities are required in order to be a good investigator. The question is applicable both towards private investigators or investigators in any other framework.
Much has been said and written about the qualities of a good investigator, but problems may arise when you try to check whether someone will be a good investigator or not, in advance, when using the list of qualities. It is very hard to make this kind of observation, and in my opinion it is even impossible.
On the other hand, there is a long list of skills that can an investigator can develop in order to succeed in his or her main role - executing investigations and encouraging investigative subjects to talk to that they supply information and/or cooperate with the investigator.
The main and most important qualities of an investigator are the ability to form connections with people, and good interpersonal skills in dealing with the investigative subject - these are the main tools of an investigator. When the subject feels close to the investigator and is willing to trust him or her, then the subject will also provide all the necessary information for the investigation (whether this information is intimate or even self-incriminating).
I will note four important qualities or characteristics in the field of interpersonal relations:
The ability to listen is a quality required of all private investigators, and may be even more important than the power of persuasion. People want to talk and would like to be listened to. Usually, there is a hidden struggle between people talking when every side wants to make its claim and have the other person listen.
A private investigator must be familiar with and understand this human need and listen to the investigative subject, so that he or she has the opportunity to say whatever they want. In this way the investigator allows the subject to satisfy an important need. The subject will, in response, provide the investigator with important information.
Do not interrupt the subject while talking, even when he or she may be exaggerating stories and straying off topic. The investigator can “help” the subject return to the main topic, but gently and without silencing the subject. A harsh reaction on behalf of the investigator may cause the subject to be silent and to disconnect all ties.
In order to encourage the subject to talk and reveal things, all investigations should begin with open conversation and open-ended questions that may lead into a monologue on behalf of the subject. Bear in mind that while the subject is talking, the investigator should also pay attention to body language and the messages that this body language may be conveying to the investigator.
The ability to listen stems mostly from patience, which is the second character trait. In general, during the course of an investigation, the subject will not know what information the investigator needs. Often times, things that are important to the investigation are marginal to the investigative subject, and vice versa.
The investigator must remember that he doesn’t know what information is familiar to the subject, and so he or she cannot know until the end of an investigation what relevant information is available to the subject.
Acquiring the trust of the subject, making a personal connection with him or her, and bringing the subject to a state of revealing information are actions that require great patience. In the reverse situation, in which an investigator displays impatience and irritation, positive connections with the subject are not formed. The opposite is true - in this situation the subject may feel that his or her silence will cause the investigator to despair and give up.
The third quality is the ability to negotiate. Not every interrogated person is willing to supply the investigator with all the information available regarding the circumstances of an event that he or she is being questioned about. Every investigation may include an element of negotiation, whereby the investigator “pays” for the information received.
The payment is made mainly in the form of satisfying the emotional needs of the subject, such as decreasing anxiety, decreasing uncertainty, and even supplying information related to the investigation itself. A professional investigator must know how to sell his assets expensively, and buy the necessary information for an inexpensive price.
When an investigator reveals information about the investigation to the subject, it is important to be careful not to disclose details that may harm or damage the investigation. Sometimes, even the “I know everything so cooperate with me and confess” approach will reveal too much.
When a subject is not cooperating and is hesitant about disclosing information that is important to the case, it is advisable to present the required information as being of little importance (while hiding its true value). Subjects tend to “sell” irrelevant information (or information of little importance) in an attempt to conceal information that they assume is important to the investigator.
The fourth quality is the power of persuasion and interaction. The ability of a private investigator to persuade the subject to cooperate and reveal all known information about a certain event plays a central and crucial role in any investigation. After establishing a good personal connection with the subject, when it comes time to reach the crucial stage in the conversation about the subject of the investigation then the investigator’s power of persuasion is of great importance in determining the outcome of the investigation.
The investigator must be able to talk in the language and style of the subject, in order to create communal ground. The investigator should only speak in the subject’s style when he or she feels comfortable enough to do so naturally. Forced attempts to speak in the subject’s language style may be interpreted by the subject as contempt or mockery, or may make the investigator appear ridiculous. The power of persuasion is a function of self confidence.
A lack of confidence on behalf of the investigator, on the other hand, may also be used as a stunt by the investigator to develop an exaggerated sense of confidence in the subject that causes him or her to disrespect the investigator. This will cause the subject to lower his defenses and become careless.
Other times, the investigator can deliver a long monologue with the intent to either demonstrate sympathy with the subject or as a means of psychological warfare. In any investigative or persuasive procedure, the investigator must increase the strength of the explanations for his stance and refute the opposing arguments. The opposing arguments should be refuted during the first stage of the investigation, in order to persuade the subject to cooperate.
This article was written after several hours of different types of investigations, both in the investigation rooms of various governmental entities and private investigation agencies. The agency’s team would be happy to receive responses and questions through our website’s Investigation Forum.