By Dan Gephart, July 18, 2018

I’m married to a talented and successful children’s book author. She tells stories for a living. I’m proud of the work she does because she tells the stories of people from whom we don’t often hear. And her stories evoke empathy, which is sorely lacking in our world today.

But published authors aren’t the only ones who tell stories. We all have stories.

In these hyper-partisan times, opposing stories can quickly subsume a federal workplace in conflict.

The stories we carry don’t come in chapters or wrapped in fancy book covers. And they don’t end when you turn the last page. The stories are buried on top of each other deep within us and they shade the way we address everything and everyone. We think our stories are 100 percent truth. But the real truth is that even the most accurate stories we tell have a decent percentage that belongs on the fiction shelves.

Whether you are a supervisor, an HR professional, or an EEO practitioner, you need to understand your own stories, as you navigate those of your employees. We may not agree with the stories we hear, but we need to listen. That’s not to say that every story we hear needs to be validated and acted upon. But you don’t get to truth by shouting over someone.

I find the work of agency investigators to be fascinating. They are looking for answers in some of the most emotionally draining and intellectually challenging situations, whether they are investigating simple misconduct or harassment.

In one of our recent on-site trainings, Meghan Droste presented agency officials a thorough dive into the administrative investigation process. Reviewing the materials recently, the section on interviewing stood out. It was great information for investigators, but something that can benefit everyone. Meghan laid out clearly the difference between interrogations and interviews.

  • While interrogations aim for a confession, interviews seek to gather information.
  • An interrogation is structured. Interviews are free-flowing.
  • And here’s the big one: Interrogations are more speaking than listening. Meghan put the ratio at 95 talking to 5 percent listening. Interviews, on the other hand, are all about listening. The ratio is flipped the other way.

If we approach our discussions with our colleagues, peers, subordinates, and supervisors more as interviews, and less as interrogations, we might be able to better understand each other’s stories.

Anyway, that’s my story. And I’m sticking to it. Gephart@FELTG.com

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