Harassment investigations are highly nuanced and a challenge to investigate as it often involves the classic “he-said, she-said” scenarios. In the face of conflicting stories, who are you to believe in the absence of eye witnesses? How do you conclude what actually happened behind closed doors? In these cases, it all boils down to an assessment of credibility.
Basing your judgements on a “gut feel”, how a person looks or their body language solely is as reliable as a coin-toss. To conduct a credibility test of the parties effectively, you must be able to examine the stories and testimonies in detail and against other evidence you’ve gathered.
Whose version of events you believe to be more credible can be determined through a methodical analysis of various factors. In part one of this blog series, I will examine 5 of the 10 common factors you can use and what questions to consider that can help you better assess credibility in workplace investigations.
- Is the evidence or statement internally and externally consistent?
- Did the story change at different times of re-telling and upon probing?
- Is there consistency upon review of the evidence pre and post incident?
Inconsistencies detected should be a sign to probe more in those areas. If things don’t make sense, there is usually a reason. Sometimes, it is not just what a person says, it is what they don’t say or omit that requires more digging by asking the right questions.
- Is the statement or account corroborated by other evidence such as witness testimony, documentary or other physical evidence?
- Does the individual’s version of event match timelines and sequence of events validated by other records?
Dig deep and seek alternative sources of evidence wherever and whenever possible (i.e. video, records, direct, circumstantial and indirect evidence).
- Is the person’s body language congruent with what they are saying during the interview?
- Is there a noticeable change in verbal and nonverbal cues from the person’s baseline behavior?
Signs of incongruence may signal untruthfulness and requires further examination. This factor should not be considered in isolation but can offer insights when assessed in combination with other factors.
- Is there an opportunity or ability for the person to observe what they claim?
- Are there any impediment that affects their ability to fully observe (i.e., poor eyesight, distraction, distance, obstructed view, etc.)?
Asking the parties to draw out the scene or floorplan, identify where the parties are positioned, and proximity with approximate distance is a good tool to use to give you the ability to visualize and assess this factor.
- Is the story plausible or believable on its face?
- Does it make sense when you weigh the evidence?
- Is the story reasonable given the context when judged by common experience?
Answering the questions outlined under each factor will allow you to gather more concrete data to evaluate a person’s credibility. The key is to go beyond the surface, ask the right questions and seek alternative sources of evidence (i.e., documents, emails, texts, calendar schedules, video footages, circumstantial and hearsay evidence etc.), so that there is a rational basis for drawing your conclusions.
- Assessing credibility: More than just a coin toss – Part 2 - February 6, 2024
- Assessing credibility: More than just a coin toss – Part 1 - December 5, 2023
- The cost of getting it wrong in workplace investigations – Part 2 - August 1, 2023