Inside the interview

Analyze potential whistleblowers with these psychology profiles

Cultivating whistleblowers is harder work than persuading traditional interviewees to talk during an investigation. Use these profiles to categorize Victims, Avengers, Samaritans and Intellectuals.

Despite emerging technologies in evidence gathering, successful fraud investigations normally require witnesses. Typically, we don’t have the same tools to persuade whistleblowers that we may have with other types of interviewees who might have been involved in crimes. It’s unlikely that a whistleblower has engaged in unethical behavior that authorities can forgive in exchange for cooperation, and laws may prevent monetary compensation. When you make your approach, you may have less than a minute to persuade a potential whistleblower before they slam the door or hang up the phone. Do you appeal to their ideals? Stroke their ego? You might only have one chance to pique their interest, so what argument do you craft? Luckily, science can help.

Donna Youngs, Ph.D., and David Canter, Ph.D., developed a psychological profiling taxonomy, which you could use to tailor interview strategies. (See “An emerging research agenda for investigative interviewing: Hypotheses from the narrative action system,” by Donna Youngs and David Canter, Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling, June 2009.) Although they initially designed their Narrative Action System (NAS) with offenders in mind, its underpinnings in general personality theory make it easily adaptable to whistleblowers.

The central premise of NAS is that we’re all the protagonists in our own stories. As we interact with the world, we give off signals that reveal the types of stories we’re creating for ourselves through our behaviors and how we speak. We can better assess witnesses’ protagonist types by researching their backgrounds and listening carefully to their words. We can then develop themes in our questioning that may make them more likely to cooperate. Applying NAS to fraud investigations, I’ve identified four types of whistleblowers: Victims, Avengers, Samaritans and Intellectuals.

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