US General George S. Patton is considered one of the greatest generals the world has ever seen. Biographer Carlo D’Este, described Patton as having a genius for war. Despite this brilliance, he was not everyone’s cup of tea. Patton was hard-driving, profane, blunt, demanding and aggressive. He was revered and feared by the Germans and hated by British General Montgomery. His approach to war was to keep your foot on the gas pedal, slammed hard to the floor, while charging forward. Attack. Attack. Attack. Be unrelentingly. If you have your foot on the enemy’s throat, do not remove it. And, whatever you do, do not give up any real estate you have won.
Some interviewees tear a page out of the Patton playbook and employ this ultra aggressive approach during investigation interviews. They waste no time, engaging the strategy the moment they enter the interview room. It’s attack, attack, attack. They attack everything about the room – the chairs, the tables, the lights, the temperature – the interviewer and the process. They attack the questions when the interview starts.
Why do they do this? For a number of reasons. One is that they want to try to intimidate the interviewer. They are betting the interviewer will be taken aback by their approach and will fold his/her cards (another poker analogy) to avoid a conflict and run for the hills with their tail between their legs.
Another is the interviewee is trying to protect their reputation, or so they say. I had several interviewees claim they were being slandered and libelled by being brought into the interview. Forget the accusations included in the complaint or the facts of the case. (It was clear from the outset they did not know the legal difference between the two.) So, to protect their reputation, they told me that they were going to hire a lawyer and sue me and the company and take us for every dollar ever earned.
I had another situation where a unionized employee accused of harassment said he was going to hire a lawyer and sue us. Somebody forgot to tell him that this wasn’t necessary. The union was his legal representative and there was a process for this in the collective agreement (called a grievance and arbitration process) and a legal provision in the Labour Relations Act call the called duty of fair representation.
This approach doesn’t phase me. I know the strategy so I tell them they have to do what they have to do. If they feel they need to sue, go ahead and do it. There’s no need to pontificate. Do it. I have no control over what they might or might not do. I also know that they live pay check to pay check and don’t have two nickels to rub together. So, the likelihood of them hiring a lawyer is somewhere between zero and negative ten.
And, if they do hire a lawyer, I always feel confident about the investigative process I followed, the facts gathered and the case built against the individual.
How do I handle this? I remain calm, cool and collected. I play the poker player and show the stone face – no emotion. I don’t give the interviewee the pleasure of engaging in an argument. And old boss of mine used to say that you can’t win a peeing contest with a skunk. I let the interviewee blow off steam and get everything off their chest. I then proceed with my opening remarks in a professional manner.
If the interviewee persists in being disrespectful, abrasive and/or argumentative, I will remind him/her that I have shown them respect and expect the same in return. I also tell them if they don’t co-operate, I will note his/her behaviour in my final report and it will not reflect positively on them.
If the interviewee is a member of a union, I will take the union rep outside the interview room for a short conversation. I will encourage the rep to have a chat with the interviewee to calm them down and to co-operate; the behaviour is not helping. This approach has never failed me.
Check out my next few blogs as I explore more deceptions.