When conducting interviews as a workplace investigator, I begin each interview by explaining my role in the investigation process to the interviewee. As an external investigator, I ensure that interviewees are aware that my role is to be neutral. In the past, I have been asked whether I could be truly neutral. I have had interviewees express to me their reservations about how I would be assessing the information they provide, for if a client retains our firm to investigate a complaint, would I not then just be serving the client’s interest? In this blog post, I answer these and other questions I have been asked in relation to an investigator’s neutrality.
Bias – whether conscious or unconscious – is a problem that workplace investigators grapple with in many forms. Perhaps bias is exactly what we’ve been asked to investigate: was the complainant treated differently at work on the basis of her gender, race or religion? Or, maybe we’re concerned that our own biases are affecting our investigation: do I believe the respondent’s evidence just because he looks and talks like me?
In my previous life, before becoming an investigator, I lived in the world of private legal practice, both in the Caribbean and in Ontario, Canada. In that role, I had the opportunity of interacting with persons of diverse social, cultural and racial backgrounds, persons of varying personality types and persons with experiences that had shaped their life or the way they interacted with others. There were many occasions where the persons with whom I interacted, whether as their advocate or as opposing counsel, were seemingly not forthcoming with the information that I needed to illicit. The typical or traditional thinking is that they are not forthcoming because they are either lying or have something to hide.
No matter how fair-minded an investigator may be, the inescapable reality is that we all have inherent biases. The situations we investigate are viewed through our own lens, and sometimes our past experiences and our perceptions can interfere with a fair and neutral information gathering process unless steps are taken to mitigate the risk. The