Inside the Interview

The many facets of empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand other people’s emotions, values and behaviors. It was once believed to be too “wishy-washy” or submissive to be taken seriously as a valid approach for investigations or negotiations. But empathy is actually a highly valued dimension of interpersonal, communication and strategic competence that can help fraud examiners more easily obtain an admission of guilt from fraudsters and gain insight into their “why.”

Cable news anchor Jake Tapper asked President Biden in a 2022 interview, “Do you think Vladimir Putin is a rational actor?” (See “Interview with President Joseph R. Biden,” CNN.) If getting President Biden to comment about what’s going on inside Putin’s mind was the intent of Tapper’s closed-ended question, it was the wrong one to ask. It doesn’t matter whether President Biden believes Putin is a rational actor; what matters more is the question Tapper should have asked: “What’s really important to Putin?” To have some inkling of Putin’s rationality, you first must understand what motivates his actions, behaviors and beliefs.

Getting inside a fraudster’s — or in this case Putin’s — mind by asking probing questions to help understand their motivations and perspective can make all the difference in an interview and ultimately tease out a confession. “Making a connection” and “establishing rapport” are terms we often use to signify creating a bond or level of understanding with someone. Empathy, along with trust, respect and dignity, goes far in helping set the tone for investigators to conduct successful admission-seeking interviews and uncover rationalizations fraudsters use to account for their actions.

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