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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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Many people 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.