I recently had the opportunity to attend the AQR’s ‘Interview like a police detective’. Being an avid fan of crime shows, I was intrigued the moment I heard about the event. For less experienced researchers, interviewing can be exciting and terrifying in equal measure; how do you ensure participants share their honest opinion, rather than what they think you want to hear? How do you skilfully navigate complex, sensitive topics that people are reluctant to discuss? What if they are simply not in the mood to talk much?

The evening started off with pizza and introductions. Met Police Intelligence Officer, Nathan Pollitt, explained the nature of his work, drawing parallels between the work of a detective and that of a researcher; in both cases, interviewing is one of our main responsibilities, and building rapport is crucial in helping us gather the information we need. Arguably, we also sometimes speak to people who would rather be elsewhere during their lunch break.

Nathan was engaging and knowledgeable, and shared some of his top tips for interviewing. It was fascinating to explore how body language offers clues as to whether the person being interviewed is truthful or not, but also how it can be employed to convey authority on the interviewer’s part when necessary. In addition, Nathan explained the role of neutrality and empathy in rapport building, an essential step to help participants feel secure and comfortable enough to discuss thorny subjects openly.

Working in small groups, we were then asked to put those police interviewing tips into practice during a fun, interactive role-playing exercise; the room was full of excited chatter as the detectives of the team interviewed the suspects, trying to ask the right questions, build rapport and ultimately determine who the real culprit was. Overall, the session was a brilliant mix of presentation, group exercises and Q&A, full of practical advice for all researchers.