In “he-said, she-said” situations, who are you to believe when there are no witnesses available or any other sources of evidence? This is where credibility assessments come in.
A systematic approach to assessing credibility is based on a detailed analysis of several factors in harassment investigations. In continuation of Part 1 of this blog, here are 5 additional factors you can apply when making credibility assessments.
- Is the person clear, open and direct in sharing their account or were they hesitant, vague or evasive?
- Is the person forthcoming and co-operative in providing supporting evidence to back up their stories?
- Did the person present their testimony through recall or was it memorized?
- How does the person react to pointed follow-up questions?
In my experience, those who are being truthful tend to offer more detail and support for their version of events in the face of conflicting evidence which is a telling difference from those who have something to hide.
- Is there evidence that the person omitted important information during the investigation?
- Is the person honest about sharing things that puts them in a negative light?
- Has the person been caught in a lie or admitted to lying about something during the course of the investigation?
If there is evidence that a party has lied to the investigator on one occasion, it would then be reasonable to infer that the person is more likely than not to lie about something else.
- Is the recollection of events coherent and detailed with verifiable timelines?
- Is the person trying but finding it difficult to recall the events with clarity?
The reliability of information recalled by memory may be impacted by a person’s age and how long ago the event took place as memories are subject to fade and distortion over time. This factor may also be impacted if and when a person experiences trauma which may make it difficult for the person to recall with clarity and in sequence.
- Is there a reason for the person to lie or falsify information?
- Are there self-interests for financial gain or employment opportunity?
- Does the person have an “axe to grind” or harbour any animosity?
Examine reasons for self-protection, fear of reprisal or fear of termination as they also present strong motivations for a person to alter the truth.
- Are there potential biases and self-interest that may blur a person’s objectivity?
- Is there a vested interest in the outcome of the investigation?
- Are there kinships and close relationships that can bias a person’s testimony?
- Are there cultural biases at play that can influence a person’s perception?
Bias can also be apparent by a person’s choice of words. A telling sign is a person’s tendency to embellish or exaggerate the story with the frequent use of strong adjectives.
To summarize, the 10 common factors I’ve highlighted in this blog series include:
When there are no witnesses available, a good investigator will always look to alternative sources of evidence (such as documents, emails, calendar schedules, video footages, circumstantial evidence, etc.) as a first step. When other sources of evidence are not available, then this is where credibility assessments are necessary.
Not all factors apply to each assessment and some may overlap. Typically, I would consider multiple factors to make a determination as no one factor alone should be relied upon in evaluating credibility.
It is a critical part of every investigation to ensure there is rational basis for making a finding based on a balance of probabilities.
- 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