6 language patterns to prompt a confession

Kevin Hogan has written numerous books on communication techniques applicable to both sales and our investigative tool of interrogation — here, we’ll examine the use of language patterns

Editor’s Note:

Editor’s Note: John Bowden’s book “Interview to Confession, The Art of the Gentle Interrogation” has many more techniques and information on how to elicit cooperative confessions.

I’ve looked into many fields of study to put together the techniques we use to obtain a confession. One is sales. A salesman is trying to sell a product — the investigator is selling the subject on the idea of telling their story. In my research, I discovered Kevin Hogan, who has written numerous books on communication techniques applicable to both sales and our investigative tool of interrogation.

A language pattern is a word or phrase designed to stop the mental resistance of a person and encourage them to act in a certain manner. The language pattern will not make a person act in a manner they are not predisposed to do, but it does prime the pump.

In sales the goal is to convince them to buy the product — in interrogations it is to get the person to confide in you their side of the story. An interrogation is necessarily adversarial — you’re trying to get information from someone who is defensive and distrustful or your motives.

Generally, the interrogator is telling the person to talk, confess, give in, or otherwise capitulate. That person’s not typically interested in cooperating. We find that people do want to tell their story — we are trying to convince them that we are the person they should confide in.

In his research of 300 language patterns, Hogan found that there are 24 language patterns effective in sales. Here, I will discuss six of them.

1.) I wouldn’t want to tell you to (prime phrase).
The thing you state you would not tell them to do is the thing you actually want them to do.

The phrase can stop someone’s resistance. It bypasses a critical factor by putting the power of making the decision at the person’s control and primes them with the idea you want them to do.

I wouldn’t want you to talk to me if you do not want to. It is entirely up to you. However, I would really like to hear your side of the story if you want to tell me.

The person now has mentally focused on the fact that they are in charge to make the decision while at the same time they have the idea in their head of what you want them to do. The idea is formed by the suggestion you have given them, priming them to act in that manner — talking to you about the case.

2.) You might want to (prime phrase) now.
Insert what you want them to do in the blank. Then support the idea.

You might want to get your side of the story out now. A lot of people wait too long and wind up being ignored. 

You might want to share your side of the story with someone like me, who understands what you are going through.

When you say you might want to, you are not telling them what to do or act in a certain manner. You are merely priming the person to the idea of following your suggestion.

3.) What is it that helps you know whether you should (prime phrase) or (negative)? 
Those two options make them think. It gets their attention. It puts the person in control and makes them consider the decision they are going to make. People sometimes are in a mental state of pause, not thinking or deciding. Your statement wakes them up to listen, think and decide. In this process you are not pushing your agenda, just putting the thought out there for them to use.

What is it that helps you know whether you should share your side of the story with me or wait until the prosecutor is asking you questions? The prosecutor has their own agenda — I just want to hear your side of the story.

Once the person starts to think about the options, point out the good and bad aspects of each side of the question. In this way you are working with the subject, not against them.

4.) You don’t have to (prime phrase) now.
     •    decide
     •    talk to me

People like this phrase because it puts them in control. It tells them they do not have to do anything (now!). 

You’ve taken the thought of action out of their mind and put it on the table for them to think about. By stating what you want them to do as a choice to not do it, primes their behavior to actually do the behavior.

Saying “You don’t have to talk to me now,” relieves resistance and makes them think about talking to you.

Follow up with “It is entirely up to you. However, I would really like to hear your side of what happened, if that is what you want to do.”

5.) Why is it that some people see it and most people don’t?
This puts the person above others — it builds them up. They are “above” the person who just reacts to a situation. They become the thoughtful one who sees things as they are.

Why do some people see the advantage of getting their story out first and others don’t?

Why do some people tell their side of the story first, while others resist telling their story and wind up at a disadvantage?

Some people don’t see the advantage of being first and merely react to what happens, getting left out in the cold.

6.) I don’t know if (prime phrase) now is a good idea.
     •    deciding
     •    talking
     •    this is the best thing for sure

Again, this gives the person control to decide. The included phrase primes the person to decide in your favor. It wakes them up, gets them thinking and allows them to make a decision. 

I don’t know if you should share your story now. You will have to make that decision. I would like to hear it, but it is still up to you.

I don’t know if you confiding in me is what you want. You will have to make that decision. I would like to hear your side if that is what you want to do.

The prime phrase is what they will usually decide. It has been placed forefront in their mind for them to think about. Additionally, you have not told them to do anything, leaving the decision to them.

About the author

John Bowden is the founder and director of Applied Police Training and Certification (APTAC). John retired from the Orlando Police Department as a Master Police Officer In 1994. His career spans a period of 21 years in law enforcement overlapping 25 years of law enforcement instruction. His total of more than 37 years of experience includes all aspects of law enforcement to include: uniform crime scene technician, patrol operations, investigations, undercover operations, planning and research for departmental development, academy coordinator, field training officer, and field training supervisor. As the director of APTAC, John is responsible for coordinating operations and conducting training for law enforcement organizations across the United States. APTAC clients include law enforcement agencies, state police academies, sheriff departments, correctional institutions, military law enforcement, as well as colleges and universities across the United States. John has written numerous books, including Report Writing for Law Enforcement & Corrections, Management Techniques for Criminal Justice, Today's Field Training Officer, and others. Contact John Bowden

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