What comes to mind when you hear the word interrogation? Perhaps, the typical movie scene where someone is sitting in an uninviting room with two detectives flashing a bright light on their subject’s face. Or maybe you think of a more somber scene involving some form of torture. Until the early 1900’s in the United States, physical abuse was an acceptable method of getting a confession. However, between the 1930’s and 1960’s, police interrogation tactics gradually changed. They have shifted their focus from physical force to psychological techniques. In fact, there are many social engineering tactics used during interrogations. Let’s consider some of these techniques.

Interrogation Tactics and Social Engineering


In social engineering, it is vital to establish rapport early in the engagement in order to gain trust and lower the subject’s guard. Similarly, rapport building is one of the first steps in the initial interview of a law enforcement interrogation. During this time, the interrogator attempts to create a non-threatening atmosphere by developing a rapport with the suspect by means of casual conversation. One way to build rapport is through validation. It’s important to note that validation does not mean you agree with your counterpart. Rather, validation is taking the time to understand what the other person’s needs, wants and motivations are. This can be achieved through active listening, which means listening with the intent to understand.

Tactical Empathy

Former international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI, Chris Voss, describes tactical empathy as “the deliberate influencing of your negotiating counterpart’s emotions for the ultimate purpose of building trust-based influence and securing deals.” In other words, tactical empathy requires that we demonstrate how deeply we’re listening to their words, as well as how thoughtfully we’re considering their perception. Why is this effective? By showing genuine interest, we can understand their goals, motives, wants, and fears. In turn, this creates a connection with the subject or negotiating partner, which can lead to an effective negotiation. The premise of tactical empathy is that everyone wants to be heard and understood (even if you don’t agree). Feeling understood without judgement can allow the individual to open up and divulge valuable information.


This type of mirroring is not your old fashion sales type mirroring where you imitate the other person’s posture and movements. Mirroring in the context of a negotiation involves repeating one to three words that the person said. Typically, the last words of their sentence. For example, in a financial negotiation a counterpart could say: “I’ve been through a lot of personal and financial stress lately.” Then the listening party could mirror by saying: “financial stress?” This lets the other person feel listened to. It sends the message that “I heard every word you said, and I’d like to know more.” The natural and almost automatic response is for the interviewed party to elaborate.


Labeling is a form of verbal acknowledgment of the other person’s feelings or positions. It is an effective way to address a shift or change in the subject’s emotional state. When there’s a change in facial expressions, gestures, body language, volume and tone of voice, laughing or crying, labels can help figure out what’s going on without directly asking. The following are some examples:

    1. “It looks like something just crossed your mind.”
    2. “It appears like you’re uncomfortable with that.”
    3. “You seem hesitant.”

Here is an example of how a label could be used in a negotiation: “It seems you are hesitant to talk about what happened that night.” It’s important that after labeling we allow enough silence for the person to process their thoughts. Allow them the opportunity to respond without assuming that we know the reason for their shift.


The common misconception about interrogations and/or negotiations is that you must state your case and stick to your guns. Being well prepared with an arsenal of reasons why the other side should give in and convince them that your way is the right way. However, a great part of an interrogation consists of negotiation which is an agreement between two parties. Expert negotiator Chris Voss describes a great negotiation as “great collaboration…the person across the table is a counterpart that’s struggling with some aspect of the same problem you are. You work with them and solve that problem together, and you’re both better off.”

Things like building rapport through active listening, using tactical empathy, mirroring and labeling (just to name a few) are far more effective than being unwavering or coercive. These techniques require patience and ego suspension for them to be effective. The point is to engage the other side so that they feel involved in the process.

Do You Want to Be a Better Negotiator?

Whether dealing with family, friends, workmates or bosses, we all want to be better at negotiating. Advanced Practical Social Engineering (APSE), is a class that offers interactive lectures along with discussions based on the latest behavioral science. This class teaches social engineering techniques which are useful to professionals and individuals alike. At the end of the course, you will be equipped to better understand yourself, others, and build stronger relationships. Click here for dates and availability.