The 8 Essentials of Getting Confessions

Although much is innate, much more can be learned

By Jim Glennon  |   Nov 28, 2017
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I often discuss in my seminars how I don’t actually have any true natural talents. I can’t hammer two sticks together. I have poor hand-eye coordination. I don’t know anything about cars and even less about guns (though I was a pretty good pistol shot). I don’t have a decent sense of direction.

What I considered myself to be good at was getting confessions. Even more than that, I could read people. I certainly wasn’t perfect, but I was naturally good at assessing the veracity of people and getting them to tell me things or do what I needed them to do when necessary.

I don’t write this to brag, but to assist.

I found that relying on natural abilities take you only so far. It is necessary to enhance—through education, practice and awareness—whatever innate abilities you have. So I read, studied and attended anything I could when it came to communication and getting confessions.

Eventually I taught interviewing and interrogation skills.

Tips for Getting Confessions

Over the years I’ve been asked countless times what the secrets are to getting someone to talk when they certainly don’t want to. So I compiled a list. I present it here with minimal explanation.

1. No Barriers: Never, ever, ever, ever, at the onset of an interview have anything between you and the subject. Nothing! Not a pen, not a paperclip, not a pad of paper, and above all, not a desk or a table. Why? For too many reasons, but, here are a few.

  • Your primary goal is to develop rapport. You must read their body language and use yours to influence and redirect their focus, beliefs and mental state. Can’t do that if you are behind a table.
  • If you’re writing things down they’ll know what you are writing about and what peaks your interest.
  • If you’re writing you can’t pay attention to them and read their behaviors.
  • You’ll be distracted by things in front of you.
  • You’re giving them a barrier when what you want is for them to feel vulnerable so that if they want a barrier they need to create one (space, distance, arms, legs, etc.) 

2. Ignore Your Own Value System: Whatever you do, don’t bring your value system in the room. You can’t understand or empathize if your perspective is based on your beliefs. Don’t have a preconceived path about how you are going to get this person to confess.

3. Dignity, Respect & Empathy: Contrary to what you see on TV, the key to getting people to open up is to treat them well. In truth, all people have inherent worth, no matter how despicable. I was our department’s first sex-crime investigator. Pedophiles are the easiest people to get confessions from. The secret?  Don’t treat them as though they are terrible human beings. Treat them as though they themselves are damaged and therefore redeemable.

4. Magic of Questions:  Personally, the best first interview question was, “Would you mind telling me a little bit about yourself?”  If they balked I would say to them something along these lines, “I don’t want to know you from a forensic standpoint or from the perspective of someone else. I want to know who you are because there are two indisputable truths about human nature: It’s not what you did but why you did it. And there are always two sides to every story. We have a side, but it’s not complete without yours.”

5. Listen with the eyes and ears: Young officers, I’m afraid, don’t believe what I’m about to write. I see the skepticism in their faces when I teach it. But, here goes: People will tell you how to get them to confess. You have to listen to what they are telling you and watch how they are saying it. They’ll give you all the information necessary.

6. Body Language & Statement Analysis:  Get the following two books: Arresting Communication, by me,  and a book by Mark McClish titled, I Know You Are Lying (both available here). Mine has chapters on body language and deceptive behavior. Mark is the best when it comes to statement analysis. Suffice it to say people are always giving you vital information through their words and body without knowing they’re giving it. You just have to know what you are looking for.  Become and expert in both of these subjects.

7. Patience and Focus: Don’t be in a hurry. I’ve interviewed people for hours upon hours. I’ve sat through minutes of complete silence. You can’t be on a timetable. If they’re moving towards your goal, even at a snail’s pace, keep going. Impatience is killer. The hard part is to stay focused on your ultimate goal. Listen, look, and bank the information they are giving you.

8. Human Motivation: Pain & Pleasure: Most won’t agree with what I’m about to write here, but I assure you it’s accurate. Once I grasped this concept I couldn’t believe how much better I got. Here goes: There is only one reason—one only—that people confess. At the time they confess their brains are telling them, at least subconsciously, that it’s better tell the truth or some version of the truth than to continue to lie. Human beings are motivated by two things, the desire to gain pleasure and the need to avoid pain. The greater of the motivators is the need to avoid pain. The hard part is getting them to that moment of realization. How do you do it? Listen. They will tell you who they want you to think they are, what is important to them, and what pains them. Now use it.

Conclusion

What I’m sure of is that those are best at getting confessions use no structured system. They use their talents, instincts, and educated understandings from experience and study to work with the individual case.

Your personality will be either your greatest asset or your biggest liability. People with more heuristic personalities (open, patient, and accepting) are generally better than those with ones who are more algorithmic in nature.

That’s the quick and dirty version. I hope it helps to get you started.

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Jim Glennon
Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration, is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.
Jim Glennon

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