5 tactics to get a suspect to look at you during an interrogation

Mutual eye contact generally leads to obtaining the truth in a non-confrontational and expeditious manner


“Look at me when I’m talking to you!” This flawed, old-school investigator’s demand of a suspect generally results in conflict, distrust and anger between suspect and investigator.

The key to developing rapport and gaining a suspect’s attention during an interrogation is to get the suspect to look at you without them being told to do so.

The importance of eye contact during interrogations

Any number of these tactics will encourage the suspect to make eye contact with the investigator. (Photo/Pixabay)
Any number of these tactics will encourage the suspect to make eye contact with the investigator. (Photo/Pixabay)

Mutual eye contact generally leads to obtaining the truth in a non-confrontational and expeditious manner.

Once a suspect begins to maintain eye contact with an investigator, they will focus on the investigator’s positive theme development, rather than dwell on the consequences of telling the truth.

Additionally, the suspect can see the connection between the investigator’s verbal and non-verbal behavior.

What is the difference between an interview and an interrogation?

Almost every investigator has had suspects look away either during the interview or the interrogation. It is important to distinguish the difference between the interview and the interrogation.

The interview is non-accusatory by design and is an information-gathering conversation. It allows the investigator to develop rapport with the subject, as well as gather behavioral information that can be used to assess the subject’s credibility. At the same time, the answers and information provided by the subject during the interview may serve as the basis for an interrogation strategy for the deceptive individual.  

During the interview, the investigator should not bring attention to the subject’s non-verbal behavior. A statement to the subject such as, “You can’t even look at me when you answer my questions,” will be viewed by the subject as a challenge to their truthfulness. The truthful subject will become more defensive and feel they are not being believed, while any rapport that has been developed with the deceptive subject will be lost. Such a statement may very well reinforce the subject’s intent to continue to deny any involvement in commission of the crime.

The interrogation is designed to seek the truth from a suspect. The investigator presents reasons why the suspect may have committed the crime. During this “theme development,” some suspects will look away from the investigator in an attempt to “tune the interrogator out.” When this happens it would be a mistake for the investigator to say, “Look at me when I’m talking to you.” Not only is this statement condescending, but it will strengthen the suspect’s resolve to deny any involvement in the commission of the crime.

Instead of telling a suspect to “look at me,” utilize the following five tactics to minimize a hostile response from a suspect and create an environment where they are more likely to tell the truth.

1. Ask the suspect a hypothetical question

A hypothetical question is one to which the suspect can easily respond with a yes. An example would be, “Mike, can I ask you a question? Would you agree that no one is perfect? We all make mistakes in life, right?” If the suspect had been drinking prior to committing the crime, another example might be, “Mike, would you agree with me that when we have a little too much to drink, we can do or say things we normally would never do, right? I know I’ve acted differently when I had a little too much to drink and that happens to all of us right?” The subtle effect is that the suspect often begins to look at the investigator and become mentally involved in the conversation.

2. Change the tone of your voice – talk softer and slower

Changing the tone of your voice can suggest more compassion and sincerity. If you start talking slower, a suspect may think that what you are saying is more important and they may re-establish eye contact as they begin to listen more closely.

3. Move closer to the suspect

The distance between the investigator and the suspect is important. Most interrogations begin with the investigator sitting approximately 5 feet directly in front of the suspect, commonly called the social zone. If the suspect begins to look away during the interrogation, another effective tactic to regain attention is to move slightly closer to the suspect. Scooting a few inches forward in the chair transitions the investigator from the social zone to the personal zone. The suspect perceives this change and will usually look at the investigator.

4. Condense theme development

Condensing the psychological and moral justifications that we offer the suspect during our theme development often has the desired effect of causing the suspect to focus on our statements and re-establish eye contact. As we develop our themes, it is important to observe the suspect’s responses as to which of the themes causes them to make eye contact so that we can emphasize those particular themes.

5. Attempt to make eye contact

When you look at the subject when you are speaking, you convey both respect and confidence. When the suspect breaks eye contact with the investigator it may be appropriate for the investigator to lean forward in the chair, moving into a position where they can look into the subject’s eyes to re-establish eye contact. Slowly moving back to the upright position usually results in the subject maintaining eye contact. Using the suspect’s first name will also encourage mutual eye contact, while leaning forward using an open posture displays sincerity by the investigator.                          

Any number of these tactics will encourage the suspect to make eye contact with the investigator. When they do so, they will be listening to the investigator and considering that it might be in their best interest to tell the truth. Developing interrogation themes with someone who is not listening and looking away is a waste of time. It also allows the suspect the opportunity to focus on why they should not tell the truth about their involvement in the commission of the crime. Throughout the use of all of these tactics it is always important to treat the suspect with decency and respect.

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