Psychological Safety in (Regulatory) Interviews: 7 Tips
When investigators conduct interviews, it is easy to forget that they are in a position of power and what they do influences the psychological safety of interviewees. That imbalance of power can lead to detrimental outcomes that will affect the usefulness of the information gathered, and may leave the person interviewed in a psychologically bad place.
We have all seen the tough interview styles in the movies and TV, but as most would agree, what we see in the movies is very often the exact opposite of reality, or at least what should be reality.
As a competent investigator, you have a responsibility to gather information that can be relied upon to make important decisions. Instilling discomfort and engaging in tactics that manipulate can lead to incorrect, missing, exaggerated, and false information being provided by interviewees. It is critical to manage the mental health of interviewees in an investigation. An unpleasant or frightening interview can lead to re-victimization or distress that will negatively impact the interviewee’s mental health, and potentially undermine the validity of the information they provide.
7 Key Tips to Boosting Psychological Safety in Regulatory Interviews
The following steps should be taken to ensure the psychological safety experience for those being interviewed:
1. Give the interviewee a clear understanding of process..
..what their role is in that process, and how the interview will unfold. Also, allow them to ask questions they might have in order to help them feel better-prepared and give them a little control. This helps balance the power differential.
2. Create a safe environment..
..by assessing their comfort around the location of the interview (if it is in-person). During the interview, try to foster a safe and supportive environment by building rapport and avoiding aggressive language or tones. Where possible, give them a chance to tell their story. Don’t bombard them with question after question. Giving them this chance allows them to provide a narrative, and you can ask clarifying questions after.
3. Avoid aggressive questioning techniques..
..and speak in a non-judgmental way. It is good to show empathy in an interview.
4. Offer breaks if you observe a need for one..
..Let them know in advance that they can ask for a break and that is just fine.
5. In many cases, a support person should be offered..
..either a person they can consult with before the interview, or to have present during the interview. This will boost their feelings of psychological safety. Of course, the selected support person should not be another witness or party to the investigation. Appropriate confidentiality provisions will need to be put in place.
6. Try to be respectful of the interviewee’s limit..
..for discussing a topic or continuing with the process. It might be necessary to have additional meetings rather than trying to get it all done at once.
7. Stay open minded..
..check your own bias, and remember that not all people have the same life experiences as you. Their ability to recall information, or the order of information that they provide, are not necessarily indicators of deceit.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to managing interviewees in a manner that protects their mental health. What might seem easy to you can be a mountain to climb for someone else. All the above is part of taking a trauma-informed approach to interviewing, but it isn’t the whole story. Here I point out the need for an empathetic, respectful, and dignified approach, but there is much more to it than that. For now, taking the above steps can help protect the mental health of interviewees and ensure that the information you gather is reliable and valid. By taking this approach you are also promoting a culture of respect and empathy within your organization – essential for building trust and obtaining reliable outcomes.