Reserving judgment

When I provide investigation training to my team, I share these two rules:

  1. It’s not about the people. Our job is to discover the facts and to identify the shortcomings in our processes, controls and culture that allowed this wrongdoing to occur.
  2. It’s all about the people. Those we investigate are our colleagues. They are spouses, parents, siblings and friends to other people as well. Assuming they are not sociopaths, they are good people who did a bad thing under pressure, just like we ourselves have done in the past and might do again in the future. They must be treated with respect.

In the context of an investigative interview, respect means, among other things, that we avoid asking judgmental questions. For example, we can ask “Did you know that our policy requires approval before giving a gift to a third-party?” If the answer is “yes”, we can then ask “Did you obtain the approval?” If the answer is “no”, we can ask “Why not?”

What we don’t want to ask is “Didn’t you know that it was wrong to give this gift in the way you did?” Passing judgment during the interview will only raise the other person’s ego and make our job of finding the truth more difficult. Judgment will come later when management determines a disciplinary action.

This idea of reserving judgment will serve the ethics & compliance professional well in all her activities, not just during investigations. In fact, anyone would do well to reserve judgment. Ryan Holiday recently wrote that if we were to think of the worst punishment we could inflict on a person it would be to cast a spell on them that says, “You will now have a strong opinion on everything you see and hear.”

Judgmental people are typically miserable. And they make those around them miserable as well. The successful E&C professional will avoid this trap.

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