Assessing Credibility

When working through employee conduct issues, do you frequently find that you have all the information you need, a solid evidence file, and maybe even a flat out "Law and Order" confession? More realistically, how many times do you end up with a "he said, she said" type of a situation? How many times do you get questionable information, are unable to get any further clarification and find yourself stuck between words on a paper and an employee's verbal explanation?

As life would have it, all of the facts are not always there. How many times do you go with your gut instinct? How often do you decide on a course of action because it seems or feels right.  Where the facts end, judgement begins. We make  judgements even when there seemingly isn't a fact in the room to support us. We determine that fact A is more plausible than fact B and that employee A is more believable than employee B. What is that all about?

If anything is a judgement or a gut reaction, a credibility determination is right at the top of the list. A credibility determination can be, actually must be, made in a factual context. Silence the noise. You are the head of an an Administrative Board of Investigation. Employee A comes in for an interview. You and your team ask questions, employee answers and at the end you smile, you have finally heard some testimony you believe. You share this, yet not all members of the team agree with you. If their blank stares didn't give it away, their demands that you "not believe the testimony of Employee A over that of Employee B, because Employee B has such a nice family," do. 

Your team has mutually inconsistent stories and need to decide who to believe. You reach for your crystal ball but it is not there (darn, did fiscal borrow that again?) and you just used up your last bit of Hogwart's magic yesterday on that "other employee thing" so what do you, as the team's leader, do? Hint: don't go down the "nice family" route. You can systematically consider the testimony at hand against the questions below aka the Hillen Factors.

  1. The witness' opportunity and capacity to observe the event or act in question
  2. The witness' character
  3. Any prior inconsistent statements made by the witness
  4. The witness' bias, or lack thereof
  5. Any contradiction or corroboration of the witness' story by other evidence
  6. The inherent probability or improbability of the witness' version of events
  7. The witness' demeanor or non-verbal credibility clues (speed and/or tone of responses, eye contact, body language, facial tics/body movements, sweating, blushing)

Notice that questions about clothes, friends, family, money, cars, popularity, etc are not included. These may go to something (mainly noise) but they do not go to credibility. Take the noise away, focus on the factors and you may be able to confirm your gut reaction. What if the factors cause you to rethink your gut reaction, eliminate the noise and determine another as more credible? All the more solid your team's recommendation will be at the end of the investigation. Thorough investigation, solid recommendation, happy approving official - job well done.

Now, to get my crystal ball back . . . .