Sunday, June 26, 2016

Discerning the Quality of the Denial

Regrettably, when one does not go beyond the basics, errors are unavoidable.  A Reliable Denial is not a set of "magic words" that, once said, ends the issue.  

Recall Governor Chris Christie's speech on "Bridgegate" where he spoke for almost 40 minutes before issuing a denial.  For some, the "magic words formula" cleared him.  It did not clear him of the denial of having knowledge of the delays.   

The Reliable Denial consists of three components.

If it has less than 3, or more than 3, it is no longer reliable.  It simply means that if the subject didn't do it, he is not communicating this very well.

Context is key.

An item of jewelry went missing from a store in which the tag was found on the floor.

Denial A

"I  know I didn't steal it.  I didn't.  I know I didn't steal it.  Why would I?  Why would I when I have a husband that will buy me any jewelry I want, any time.  Look at my jewelry.  Do I look like a shoplifter to you?"

Denial B

"I know I didn't take it.  I came in here to shop for jewelry.  I was minding my own business when the  manager come running over here and gets in my face, blocking the door.  I am shopping for my fiancé  and our anniversary.

Denial C

"Well, here is what happened.  I was at the store shopping when this manager starts yelling that I have the ring and give it back.  I says to him 'I didn't steal any ring' and what are you talking about?  Why would I steal a ring?  I am minding my own business there and this guy is nuts like I did it."

The investigator must carefully listen and do his best avoiding interpretation.  As human nature is complex, so is human language and although he may interview all 3 suspects, it is vital to remember some things in the Quality of a Denial

1.  When did the denial appear? 

2.  How long did it take the subject to issue it?  

3.  Before he issued it, was the subject aware of the accusation?

4.  If so, what did he say to it?

5.  How often did the subject avoid issuing a reliable denial before finally issuing it?  This is a judgment by the analyst that reduces the chances of being taken by the "magic words" notion.  

*Please note:

Humans do a very unreliable job at recounting conversations.  They are recounted in a most unreliable manner. 



In listening to audio recordings of my interviews and comparing them to my dictation, I found that I often corrected grammar. 

Yet, this is only a small section of that which can go wrong.  

When we relay conversations with others, we are notoriously unreliable unless we take great pains to recall (which means hormonal increase due to emotion; emotion, itself, can work against us), because we often report what we think the person meant, and what we wished we had said.  

A striking example of honesty in this area is the self correction that comes, often later, in the recall process. 

"I don't think I told him to stay put.  I meant that but what I said was 'hold on.'  I apologize."

Note carefully:  There are lots of issues in the 3 denials but specifically:

Denial C

"Well, here is what happened.  I was at the store shopping when this manager starts yelling that I have the ring and give it back.  I says to him 'I didn't steal any ring' and what are you talking about?  Why would I steal a ring?  I am minding my own business there and this guy is nuts like I did it."

This is unreliable report of conversation.  

It may have been said; it may have been said something like this, or it may have been what he thought he said, or even what he wished he said or even...

what he is thinking now. 

He did not deny stealing the jewelry.  That is not what he said. 

He only reported what he said.  

The "magic words" mistake is easy to commit, and more common than should be.  

Interestingly enough, the subject who avoids issuing a reliable denial but finally stumbles upon it, will often repeat it, almost like a mantra, gaining 'strength' in his lie.  If you listen carefully as the repetition goes by, you will often find a slight alteration to it, as well as it used in combination with avoidance techniques.  

Next up:  the confirmation of the denial in the strength of a Reliable Denial.  

For training for your department, company or self, see Hyatt Analysis Services for opportunities including investigations, deception detection, vetting, employment interviewing and interview training.


John mcgowan said...

I like this.
If i have this right. When one reports what may have been said (in the past) and includes what may look like and RD it's unreliable. Is this because the RD is not said in the moment?

Nic said...

"Well, here is what happened. I was at the store shopping when this manager starts yelling that I have the ring and give it back. I says to him 'I didn't steal any ring' and what are you talking about? Why would I steal a ring? I am minding my own business there and this guy is nuts like I did it."

Is this an embedded confession?

Nic said...

"I have the ring" stood out, but the accused is saying what the manager supposedly said, so "I have the ring" is contaminated.

However, "I did it" doesn't appear to be in response to something said by the manager accusingly. "This guy" not the manager "is nuts" (not yelling at them) but *LIKE* "I did it".

Anonymous said...

Are there any real men running US universities? See Colin Flaherty's Y/T video posted today about Appleton Wisconsin.

Hey Jude said...

I don't know if the respective husband or fiancé were present - if not, I would have to start again. This is my attempt at who stole the ring - I hace it that there is maybe more than one ring missing.

Denial A - she is very defensive with questions. I would wonder what a shoplifter is supposed to look like. Is her husband with her? If so, I would wonder if he took it and if she was so defensive because she knew she didn't steal it ( repetition), but knew that he had. I don't think she stole it, but she is very sensitive in her reactions.

Denial B - he also mentions the ring only once - as an 'it'. I might wonder (if his fiancé was with him, if she took it). He says he is only minding his own business - if he is with his fiancé shopping for their anniversary, it is not only his own business he is minding. He is not paying attention to what she is doing, only to his own business yet they are anniversary shopping which is their joint business- that could be that he is pretending to be unaware that she has stolen the ring.

Denial C - I think he stole the ring as it is immediately 'the ring' to him - he didn't steal 'any' ring or 'a' ring - he stole the ring.

Is it significant that A and B unnecessarily say they came '/to shop/shopping? - it is assumed people go to stores to shop. If there is only one stolen ring, I say C stole it, while A and B's reactions are sensitive.

Anonymous said...

Denial A: The person answers immediately, “I know I didn’t steal it. I didn’t. I know I didn’t steal it.” It is a strong denial but weakened by the “I know”. All the person is telling us is that they know they didn’t steal it. If it was an employee I would be intrigued by the use of the word “steal” since an employee may believe that they did not steal the jewelry but were rather “owed” the piece by their employer. Although weakened further by the follow-on questions of “Why would I?” and “Do I look like a shoplifter to you?” it is still a fairly strong, if not completely reliable, denial of taking the jewelry.

Denial B: Immediate denial of the allegation but with the same subtle weakness of the added “I know”. Verb tense is inconsistent up to the point the person is challenged by the store manager and it jumps to present tense. It is likely the person did not take the jewelry, came there to shop for jewelry and was minding their own business but may not be recalling the interaction with the manager correctly since they are not reporting ‘what happened’ in a reliable way. I get the idea that this may be a bit of regionalism in the speech when the person said “”the manager come running over here” since it is not proper English construction. (As an aside, I find it somewhat humorous that the person is shopping for their “fiancé and our anniversary.” Doesn’t one usually shop for their spouse and their anniversary? Perhaps it is a long engagement ;) )

Denial C: Not reliable for many of the reasons Peter already mentioned. Also, the person reports that the manager says they ‘have’ the ring but the person changes the verb from ‘have’ to ‘steal.’ This may be significant if the manager used the word ‘have’ and the person responded with the word ‘steal’ since it may indicate leakage/guilty knowledge. Also, “this guy is nuts” is disparaging of the victim. I’m not confident that the “I did it” is an embedded confession but it may be. I am generally reluctant to classify anything as an embedded confession. I’ll leave that up to others to decide.

My order of suspicion goes C, B, A. In all three cases (in a perfect world) I would like to know precisely what the manager said to each of the respondents or the exact question he asked.


Hey Jude said...

Also, A and B don't say the word 'ring' - it would be interesting to know if the manager said that a piece of jewellery was missing, or that specifically it was a ring which was missing - C knows it was a ring, and says it three times, making it very sensitive, while A and B both say 'it' and their references to jewellery are A to her own, and B that which he had hoped to buy - the jewellery is not specific to them as a ring, while it is to C.

I'd assume the manager said the same to all three - C claims the manager 'starts yelling that I have the ring' - 'starts' is an incomplete action, one cannot only start yelling, one either yells or one does not - so I would doubt the manager 'yelled' anything, in which case he also may not have specified a ring, which C knows is the item missing. C wants to appear a shopper 'minding my own business there' when the manager starts yelling and is also 'this guy' who ' is nuts like I did it'. He disparages the accuser, calls him 'this guy' rather than the manager - he is yelling, and nuts. 'Like I did it' - he does not deny doing 'it' - also to him 'it' is an event which has occurred involving a ring, while to the others 'it' is an unspecified missing piece of jewellery about which there is a question or accusation.

C is all present tense, which might not speak to experiential memory - or maybe it is still very fresh in his mind, and he is outraged to be accused - but I'd bet he has the ring.

I hope it didn't just get dropped on the floor, and the tag separated on the way down, :-/ Is 'there' significant? - can its unnecessary use indicate the scene of a crime?