Back when I was in training to be an interrogator I heard many stories of how detainees in the middle east would fall in love with the female interrogators and fully comply with their every question. Information flowed like an avalanche. Fast forward 15 years later and I see the potential for the same mechanism to be taken advantage of in the Law field …albeit for different reasons than I had originally thought.
Any time I hear about the difference between female and male attorneys it’s in the negative. Negative, as in regards to what females don’t have and the challenges they face. What about the powers they actually possess? Powers that their male counterparts are less likely to hold? While women attorneys go to great lengths to reduce the many inequalities they experience in the field, how can you turn those female-specific attributes into an advantage? No, I’m not going down that route. What I’m saying is, women inherently have more advanced mental capabilities in one-on-one interactions such as client interviews or depositions than men. These differences have key strategic value that can change the outcome of almost any case if utilized to their maximum effect. The difference is a biological predisposition deep inside their brain.
While I was an interrogator at a detention center in Iraq I had the honor of working alongside some brilliant people. We were all there with a common skill set, but our personal attributes were what made doing interrogations an art form. We relied on our training and experience, for sure, but we also leaned heavily on our own personalities. Every day, we would have a team meeting and discuss our new detainees we would be interrogating. “Ann” was a female interrogator that I worked alongside. During a team meeting she stated how she had one detainee who couldn’t shut up to save his life. He told her he would pay her family two camels as a dowry for her hand in marriage. Nice sentiment, but there was a point she couldn’t get the information she needed because he would change the subject to her ‘beauty’ quite frequently. While I had heard of female interrogators being quite successful in the interrogation booth, it seemed as if this one instance it may have been working against her to some degree. I was more curious than sure, however. Sensing the need for an added presence in the equation, I asked to sit in on an interrogation between them in order to keep him in line and rolling with the necessary information.
Unwittingly, I was about to find out her best asset was not her blonde hair or feminine smile. As she conducted the interrogation, she was highly engaging, which is always a plus. With the added obstruction of an interpreter the many elements that make an effective interrogation can be muted if you aren’t careful. It creates unwanted separation, which tends to be compounded when the nature of the interaction reinforces opportunities to look away from the subject, such as looking at your notes. This was not the case with Ann. Her eyes were on the detainee the entire time, which isn’t impossible for anyone if it’s a quick interrogation. However, she was able to maintain maximum eye contact throughout their two hour engagement. Eye contact is one element of interrogations that carries to any type of one-on-one interaction, such as a deposition.
Interrogations are like depositions in many regards. An interrogation is a nuanced conversation where one person takes information from a subject, but there may be some incentive to deceive that must be overcome in one way or another. The interrogator likely has some extent of prep work done and has an outline of questions. They are prepared to deviate from the outline, so they merely use it as a guide for the interrogation. Interrogators exploit information they discover as a tool to acquire more information of value. The best interrogations don’t involve threats, yelling, or even the slightest bit of being a jerk. They never involve violence or any type of suffering with the exception of one factor: they are extremely boring to a bystander. I hope this sounds familiar.
Maintaining eye contact with subject among a volume of information is not a common skill. These sessions last hours and can involve tons of information that you can easily muddy if you don’t take diligent notes. Those notes can harm you, however. Every time you look down, your eyes are not on the subject. This can damage your interrogation in a few ways:
Creating desired comfort/discomfort
- Eye contact is good for rapport, yet also lets the subject know they are being watched. Subconsciously, they would feel as if they cannot hide the “secrets” they divulge through their body language, which can influence their will to be deceptive.
- Thus, less eye contact creates a conceptual barrier which could be an advantage to someone who wants to feel comfortable lying.
Reading and reacting to body language
- Did you notice some discomfort with a certain question you asked? What was the subject and what else can you exploit from it? Sometimes, you don’t hit the nail on the head on your first pass, but observing that you were getting close could be the biggest step that many miss simply because they aren’t looking at their subject.
- Observing body language trends and correlations to subjects is highly nuanced, yet can guide your next set of questions where you would not have thought to explore should it go unnoticed.
- With no gaps in the mutual cadence of the interrogation, it becomes exceedingly difficult for the subject to maintain a false story whereas otherwise they would have time to keep track of old lies, new ones, and their relevance to factual information.
- Less ability to employ defensive tactics or maintain adherence to any scripted answers to questions.
- This creates an easier physical manifestation of anxiety.
While achieving these three elements is great in themselves, they collectively open a door to what we call “Rapid Fire” questioning. This line of questioning is a highly interactive interrogation approach where the subject is tasked with answering an onslaught of open-ended questions given at an extremely high pace. A true master of Rapid Fire questioning will ask a blend of mundane and pertinent questions while mixing realms of audio-verbal and visual elements of present and past, which will confuse the subject’s defenses, allowing you to acquire accurate information.
This is not a common skill. These sessions last hours and can involve large volumes of information that you can easily muddy if you don’t take diligent notes. Seemingly, men’s eyes are down on their notes more than women’s eyes, at a higher rate, at least. Some people look at their notes for conjuring new questions, but it also acts as their favorite blanket to keep them safe when they find themselves at a dead end. Not knowing what to ask next because you don’t have the proper system to maintain laser focus while extracting everything you need is the issue. It should not affect your confidence.
Nonetheless, Ann’s interrogation was quite successful. She took some notes, but judging by her ownership of conversation, I don’t think she needed them. I was known to use notes solely as a prop in a few circumstances, so it was my fault to not ask her the tactical need for them in her interrogation. However, I really don’t think they were a requirement for her. For example, she had been able to run a Rapid Fire sequence while doing “Repeat and Control” questions. Both are great by themselves as it is very difficult to maintain a false story while coming up with answers to descriptive questions in rapid succession, one after the other such as in Rapid Fire questioning. Repeat and Control questions are used to confirm veracity of information that had been given at some time prior from that individual. I believe she looked down at her notes to let on as if she would know if she was being lied to, not that she needed to review the answers.
The reasons why females typically have a higher aptitude for storage and accurate recall of verbal information is not exactly an XX versus XY chromosome issue, but rather a temporal issue in reference to the onset of puberty. Individuals, male or female, who have an earlier puberty onset are more likely to possess these skills to a greater degree than those who begin puberty at a later age, which males typically do. Conversely, those whose puberty does not begin until a typically later age will have greater spatial awareness. (Waber, 1976)
The great part about differences between human brain capabilities is that they are nearly always on a scale and not so much a “have or not have” dichotomy. Thus, verbal information storage and recall is not at all a skill some have and some do not, but rather a skill that some possess to a higher degree, a lower degree, or somewhere in between. These skills depend on organization and efficiency more than innate talent. Environmental factors, such as training and practice, can increase the individual’s aptitude for these techniques.
Intellecture Training’s signature course “Questioning in Law” enables its students with the ability to acquire information from any individual as a skilled interrogator would. Students learn to maintain rapport and high positive regard for a witness while keeping maximum pressure on the subject. The questioning techniques make it easy to keep optimal eye contact with the witness while retrieving information and taking notes. Among other useful tools, these skills can be taught by Intellecture Training and mastered through continued support and discussion. In the meantime, we can be your second set of eyes in a deposition. It isn’t a failure to ask for help, it’s an asset. You aren’t expected to be perfect and these methods aren’t easy nor are they intuitive. Asking for help in learning and applying these techniques can change your practice for the better and bridge the gap of capabilities with complete thoroughness throughout your case cycle.
Intellecture Training commonly assists in the tactical preparation of deposition outlines. While we teach you to maximize the information you have, we also keep an expert perspective on how else you can improve your effectiveness during preparation. This means discussing how best to frame questions, what follow-up questions to be prepared for, what evasion tactics they may implement, and how best to apply your more challenging questions. In a more advanced circumstance, we can gameplan to incorporate interrogation approaches.
It’s easy to see women taking an even stronger hold of the field law in the coming years. While up and coming female attorneys will continue to take their skills to the next level and make most of their innate talents, males will play a supportive role in making that happen as younger males in the profession that hold a higher regard for women are replacing the older, more contemptuous relics of a bygone era.
For more information about Intellecture Training’s services, please visit: https://intellecturetraining.com
“Questiong Everything, Better”
Waber, D.P. (1976). Sex differences in cognition: A function of maturation rate?
Science, 192, 572-574.