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More of a Hearing than a Trial

During inspection preparations, we frequently hear the advice, “Say as little as possible. Answer only the question you are asked. Don’t speculate.” This is sound advice, as far as it goes, but it frequently leads interviewees to behave like a defendant being cross-examined in a trial, e.g.,

Q: Do you have an SOP for training?
A: Yes.
Q: What is it?
A: SOP-0043.
Q: Can you describe the training process for me?
A: Exactly what do you want to know?

A GXP inspection is more like a hearing than a trial.  In a trial, two opposing sides are trying to present competing narratives.  In a hearing, two or more parties are coming together to construct a narrative.

The January 6 hearings provide an interesting example:

L. Cheney:  Miss Matthews, how did you come to join President Trump’s White House staff?
S. Matthews:  Thank you, Madam Vice Chair.  As you outlined, I am a lifelong Republican, and I joined the Trump re-election campaign in 2019.  I was one of the first communication staffers actually on board for that reelection campaign.  During that time, I traveled all around the country, and met Kayleigh McEnany, who was also working on his reelection campaign. I worked there for a year, and I formed a close relationship with Miss McEnany, and she moved over to the White House in April of 2020 to start as White House press secretary, and she brought over a group of campaign staff with her, so I joined her over at the White House in June of 2020 to start as her deputy.

In this response, Sarah Matthews provided a lot of details that were not actually requested – her political affiliation, the fact that she traveled extensively, and her relationship with another colleague. This is no accident – it’s part of the narrative she and the committee are trying to create for the public.

An inspection is a bit different, because the inspector is not working actively with the inspection team to create a narrative, but it’s not that different. In an inspection, the inspector does not arrive with their own pre-conceived narrative.  Their job is to construct it from their observations, the documentation, and information presented verbally. Interviews are a perfect opportunity to shape that narrative. One-word answers like the exchange above give the impression that the interviewee has something to hide. A fuller response helps the inspector create that “quality story.”

The trick, of course, is crafting responses that contribute to the quality story without giving the inspector unnecessary information. That’s why interview training and rehearsal are so important.

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