Witnesses are often an essential part of an investigation of unethical practices in the workplace. That said, witnesses may be unwilling to participate in an investigation, especially if they do not have anything to gain by providing information. The Fraud Magazine article, “Analyze Potential Whistleblowers with These Psychology Profiles,” by Andrew Thompson, CFE describes how to persuade witnesses to participate in an investigation using interview strategies that appeal to their personality and motivations.
In the article, Thompson identifies four types of whistleblowers based on a psychological profiling taxonomy called the Narrative Action System (NAS). NAS was originally developed by Donna Youngs, Ph.D. and David Canter, Ph.D. to tailor interview strategies to offenders’ personalities and perspectives. Thompson argues that this system is adaptable to whistleblowers and that once we know what type of whistleblower someone is, “We can then develop themes in our questioning that may make them more likely to cooperate.” The following will discuss Thompson’s four whistleblower types, Victims, Avengers, Samaritans, and Intellectuals, as well as their corresponding interview strategies.
Victims are typically vulnerable, low-level employees who are not in a position to refuse to take part in workplace practices that they believe to be unethical. They may have barriers to employment such as a lack of education and are unlikely to find a better job elsewhere. Victims feel a lack of control over their situation and feel that they have been forced to contribute to unethical workplace practices due to their lack of authority and employment options. Victims tend to focus on their own experiences and feelings during investigations and often express guilt and sadness over their situation.
When questioning a Victim, it is helpful to validate their feelings of helplessness and lack of control over the situation. Thompson recommends that investigators downplay the Victim’s involvement in unethical practices during questioning and show empathy for their difficult situation. He explains that Victims feel a sense of relief when they share their experience. They are less concerned about the results of an investigation than they are about discussing their own experience and gaining peace of mind.
Avengers are employees who have refused to engage in unethical practices and have faced retaliation because of their resistance. Avengers often have low- to medium-seniority in the workplace. Both Avengers and Victims feel that they have been wronged by their employers. Unlike Victims, however, Avengers have refused to go along with unethical behavior in order to guarantee job security. Avengers are angry with wrongdoers and are eager to hold them accountable.
Avengers are mostly interested in revenge over those who wronged them. They want to benefit from the results of the investigation and want to be recognized as being right all along. When working with an Avenger, Thompson recommends that investigators emphasize their role in the investigation and assure them that their testimony will hold wrongdoers accountable. Since Avengers are primarily focused on personal gain, investigators should not emphasize how an Avenger’s testimony will lead to organizational improvements.
Samaritans are typically higher-level employees with extensive experience in their field. Unlike Victims and Avengers, Samaritans typically have an overall positive view of their organization and are primarily interested in bringing about change for the better. Samaritans often make their concerns known within their organization. They want people to do what is right and are frustrated that their concerns have been ignored.
Since Samaritans are solutions oriented, Thompson recommends that investigators initiate conversations with Samaritans by asking what changes must be made to end improper practices. In other words, interview questions should focus on solutions to the problem instead of who is and isn’t at fault. If necessary, a discussion about what needs to change can segue into a conversation about who must be held accountable to ensure that the problem never repeats itself.
Intellectuals often feel that they have spotted a problem that nobody within their organization was wise enough to recognize. Intellectuals are sought after as experts in their field and are often hired to fill high-level positions. Once hired, intellectuals may unsuccessfully attempt to put an end to improper practices, only to end up quitting over the perceived incompetence of others. Intellectuals may be reluctant to participate in an investigation because they feel that they have nothing to gain. After all, they tried to correct the situation, but nobody listened.
Intellectuals thrive on being recognized for their expertise. Investigators will have a better shot of gaining important information from an Intellectual if they play up their expertise and act as a student who needs educated on the situation. Thompson explains that since Intellectuals are concerned about their own gain, investigators should point out how an Intellectual’s cooperation will boost their own reputation. For example, an investigator can point out that the Intellectual’s cooperation will frame them as a hero who should have been listened to all along.
In closing, Thompson notes that whistleblowers will not fit perfectly into one of the four groups but that they serve as a “starting point to craft your pitches.” Once you are familiar with these profiles, you will be able to adapt your interview strategies as you learn more about each whistleblower’s personality and perspective.
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