When Details Matter: Effective Interviewing Skills

Details Matter:
Effective Interviewing Skills – by Baz Crane

The year was 2003, the location was Pristina, the capital city of Kosovo. The hot button issue was weapons proliferation within the country and the threat this posed to NATO forces and civilians alike. I was a Source Handler working with the U.K. military and it was my job to meet with and manage intelligence assets – people who were willing to gather information on our behalf. Today I was to meet with a source that indicated they could assist us with a very time sensitive matter; halting a large transfer of illicit arms to a group that NATO forces would rather didn’t have them. The source had a 30-minute window in which to meet me, which meant that was all the time I had to obtain accurate information on this arms deal – the details mattered, my interviewing and questioning skills had to be top notch.

I met our source at a pre-determined location and hurried him into my vehicle. For security reasons, I would debrief him while my driver took us along a planned route. Not the ideal interview setup, but when do we really get to experience ‘ideal’? I had a clear, straightforward mission, “get the critical information from the source and get it back to headquarters”. This was not as simple as it sounded however. As it happens, what we as interviewers consider ‘critical’ is not necessarily what the interviewee considers critical. In this case, it quickly became apparent that I had many obstacles to overcome if I was to gain any clarity on weapons proliferation. First, our very animated asset informed me that he had just been assaulted by his neighbour over a property dispute. Wonderful. Next he reminded me that his wife was 8 and a half months pregnant and there were scant medical facilities available for the safe delivery of their child. These were his hot button issues, and although he was fully prepared to provide me with the information I was meeting him for, weapons proliferation was quite literally the last thing he wanted to talk to me about!

I spent some of our precious time affirming our even more precious rapport and then prioritized the issues we needed to discuss. For NATO, this priority was simple – weapons. In situations like this where there is a clear objective, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and drive head-on towards the goal. That method doesn’t take into account the fact that I’ve got a human being sitting beside me. Someone with wants, desires, needs. Yes I had a clear objective, but my source handling experience told me that NATO’s priorities would have to wait. The priorities at this moment: assault, impending birth, THEN weapons.

I advised our source on a number of courses of action regarding the assault, and indicated that I could possibly assist him (never promise if you can’t be absolutely sure you can deliver!) with arranging a safe environment for his wife to give birth. After 15 minutes his primary concerns were addressed to his satisfaction and he was now open to discussing the ‘objective’. Even with such a short time frame and on such a complex topic, using a tried and tested system for interviewing and questioning, I was able to gain all of the pertinent information accurately. This information would be processed, analyzed and then used to save lives, stabilize a chaotic situation and ultimately help move the country forward… all of this and I had 1 minute to spare!

Applying the Skills

Since leaving the military I have spent the much of my time working in domestic and foreign environments where I used these same skills to help create a safe working environment for my clients. “Knowledge is power” – of course, but it has to be accurate. At Greyscale Intelligence, we have found that our interviewing and questioning techniques are highly transferable to a number of professional settings here in Canada. As evidenced by this story, Greyscale’s interviewing and questioning system is designed to give professionals the capability to obtain clear and accurate information from all of their interview subjects, whether they are current clients, potential clients, or other professionals.

Interviewing and Questioning Techniques for Legal Professionals

This professional development workshop has been specifically developed for those in the legal field and has been CPD accredited by the Law Society of Ontario (3 hours of Professionalism content and 1 hour of EDI Professionalism content). If you’re a legal professional and detail is important to you, then you should endeavour to have the right tools at your disposal. Click here for more information on our half-day Interviewing and Questioning Techniques for Legal Professionals workshop being held in Ottawa on July 24th 2018, or email me directly at barry@greyscaleintelligence.ca for information about our “Interviewing and Questioning Techniques” workshops for other professions.


Greyscale Intelligence is made up of former covert intelligence officers who have leveraged their experience to develop a system of interviewing and questioning that can be used by anyone who has the requirement to obtaining important information through face-to-face interviews. The system is ideal for professionals within the legal field, human resources, security, investigations, social work and healthcare. Our proprietary methods are simple to learn and implement and are extremely effective, as demonstrated through our own personal experiences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.