Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 19, Issue 48;   November 27, 2019: Implicit Interrogations

Implicit Interrogations

by

Investigations at work can begin with implicit interrogations — implicit because they're unannounced and unacknowledged. The goal is to determine what people did or knew without revealing that an investigation is underway. When asked, those conducting these interrogations often deny they're doing it. What's the nature of implicit interrogations?
What an implicit interrogation can look like

What an implicit interrogation can look like. It can look like a casual conversation, and it need not be a one-on-one. The interrogator can insert his or her questions into any conversation. Indeed, using a casual conversation as cover for the interrogation can be an effective means of concealment.

Formal interrogation in the workplace usually occurs only in connection with investigations of transgressions of some sort — negligence or violations of organizational policy, to cite two examples. The objective of a formal interrogation is a compilation of the facts of the case to inform any decisions with regard to the future status of those who have allegedly transgressed. In a formal interrogation, all parties involved are aware that an interrogation is underway, and the organization might even offer assistance or advice to those being interrogated or those suspected of having transgressed. And to ensure fairness, the information sought in formal interrogations includes both the incriminating and the exculpatory.

Implicit interrogation is something else altogether.

Implicit interrogations differ from formal interrogations in three important respects: objectives, openness, and fairness. In what follows, to avoid using the rather cumbersome terms Interrogator and Interviewee, I'll use the names Alex (for "asker") and Reese (for "responder"), respectively. By a coin flip, I designated Alex as female, and Reese as male.

Objectives
In implicit interrogation, Alex has in mind that a transgression has taken place, or might take place. She then undertakes an information-gathering exercise that includes interviews of multiple people, with a goal of confirming her hypothesis. Compared to formal interrogations, implicit interrogations are therefore less likely to uncover exculpatory information, because the interrogators aren't looking for it. Moreover, when interrogators in implicit interrogations do find exculpatory information, they sometimes reject it or cover it over. This filtering might be malicious, but more likely it's the result of a confirmation bias.
But the goalsImplicit interrogations differ
from formal interrogations in
three important respects:
objectives, openness, and fairness
of implicit interrogations might be much broader. Alex might be seeking information related to internal political issues, such as the plans or intentions of political rivals, the structures of political alliances, the leanings or inclinations of influential people, or any information that could defame or debilitate her political rivals. Implicit interrogations that have political goals are rarely commissioned by the organization — political actors undertake them for political purposes. And they want to remain undetected.
Openness
Formal interrogations are open in the sense that the people interrogated are aware that an interrogation is occurring. They know that the interrogation is part of an investigative process that has an architecture defined by organizational policy. Indeed, that policy typically requires that anyone subjected to questioning be informed that an investigation is underway.
Implicit interrogations aren't open in that sense. In an implicit interrogation, Alex doesn't inform Reese that an investigation is underway. Reese might know from other sources that an investigation — formal or informal — is taking place, but he can't be certain that the questions Alex is asking are related to any investigation. He can't even be certain that Alex has any investigative role at all. To Reese, Alex's questions might appear motivated by innocent curiosity, if Alex is clever enough about how she asks the questions.
Because the implicit interrogation lacks openness, Alex must take care not to behave in any way that would alert Reese to the true purpose of the questions she asks him. If Reese begins to suspect that an implicit interrogation is taking place, he might become cautious or defensive in his responses, and that might limit Alex's ability to gather the information she seeks. The tactics Alex uses to conceal her true agenda, and the tactics Reese might use in his own defense — are topics for future posts.
Fairness
Formal interrogations, and indeed the entire investigations of which they might be components — are designed to uncover truth. To accomplish this, they must be fair to all concerned. An implicit interrogation that's a preliminary to a formal investigation is likely to be fair, because the interrogator expects the results of the interrogation to be reviewed by people who intend to conduct a fair investigation.
But many implicit interrogations are informal affairs that are designed to cause political trouble for political rivals, or to gather information about someone targeted for termination or career disruption. Those who conduct implicit interrogations of this category aren't interested in fair results. Their interest lies in finding results that they can use to advance a pre-determined agenda.

Next time, we'll explore the tactics of those who conduct implicit interrogations, to learn how they avoid detection and bias their results.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Implicit Interrogation Tactics  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenrDUDwWaUxOAJtKFRner@ChaclWPJpPZohNvtYLEJoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Devious Political Tactics:

George Orwell's 1933 press card photo issued by the Branch of the National Union of JournalistsDevious Political Tactics: Mis- and Disinformation
Practitioners of workplace politics intent on gaining unfair advantage sometimes use misinformation, disinformation, and other information-related tactics. Here's a short catalog of techniques to watch for.
An orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus) perched on an orchidPassive Deceptions at Work
Among the vast family of workplace deceptions, those that involve camouflage are both the most common and the most difficult to detect. Here's a look at how passive camouflage can play a role in workplace deception.
An inflatable aircraft of the U.S. Ghost Army in World War IIActive Deceptions at Work
Among the vast family of workplace deceptions, those that involve presenting fiction as reality are among the most exasperating, because we sometimes feel fooled or gullible. Lies are the simplest example of this type, but there are others, and some are fiendishly clever.
Three Card Monte, Jaffa, IsraelSome Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: II
Skip-level interviews are dialogs between a subordinate and the subordinate's supervisor's supervisor. They can be both heplful and hazardous. Here's Part II of a little catalog of the hazards.
A hot dog with mustard on a bunCounterproductive Knowledge Workplace Behavior: II
In knowledge-oriented workplaces, counterproductive work behavior takes on forms that can be rare or unseen in other workplaces. Here's Part II of a growing catalog.

See also Devious Political Tactics and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

An onion, sliced and dicedComing December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
Winston Churchill in the Canadian Parliament, December 30, 1941And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenrDUDwWaUxOAJtKFRner@ChaclWPJpPZohNvtYLEJoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The
Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.