After the Webinar: Motivational Conversations for Investigators. Q&A with Al Cobos

Webinar presenter Al Cobos answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Motivational Conversations for Investigators. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: Can you share some examples of motivational conversations and questions? 

Al Cobos: You know I’ll go back to this related to investigators. You know I had a detective when I was working on one of my assignments and this guy was great. He was really good at trying to get people – and these are suspect these are people had been arrested or detained there in custody, they’re not free to leave – and he was just really good at asking open-ended questions. Finding out what their value system was in a number of cases that he had. He’s a good stand-up person, little bit religious and during one of his investigations, we found that the suspect was also religious and there was a commonality in values there. Overwhelming evidence against this person. So, there really wasn’t a need for this huge conversation. But he loved talking to people, he’s very good at speaking to people that were in custody and he made that connection. We talked about a person’s value system, what’s important to them, he tied into that and he asked them questions about, “Shouldn’t we be making this right,” and he’s specifically talking about the particular faith that person was a part of. And it resulted in a confession and it’s just, again, you know, you ask the right question, dependent on the person. You know, other examples could be, you have someone who’s in custody, and you’re trying to build that rapport. And you can ask them questions about impacts on a family, impact on the community. You know, many people, you know, they’ll, they’ll commit a crime, but they don’t want to hurt their family, and, you know, there are some questions that can move them in the right direction. As long as it’s rooted in fact. So, you know, those are some investigative examples, there’s plenty of those outside the investigative field. I hope that answers your question, though.



Audience Question: How does this approach differ from the motivational interviewing technique that is used too often by probation and parole officers that are geared towards behavior change? 

Al Cobos: The key difference is and a lot of this is very similar to motivational interviewing. But here, there’s a directed path for not just an individual, it could be a group. I use it quite a bit when it comes to managing teams. And I know motivational interviews can take place in a group setting, but it’s generally very client-focused. Whether it’s, you know, probationer, you know, someone who has a substance abuse problem, this is more for a group. The skill sets are similar, but it’s to move, not just an individual, your team in a specific direction. It’s presented more as a way to manage different groups of people, whether it’s a community, whether it’s a team, but it can also be used for the individual itself. So, there are some key similarities, but it’s based upon asking the questions. Again, very similar to motivational interviewing. You want them to voice the very change that you want them to embrace.



Audience Question: Are there any resources, books, online videos that you can suggest for learning some more of the techniques? 

Al Cobos: I’m looking at my library here again. The foundational book would be where I got exposed to a lot of these concepts is Motivational Interviewing by Miller and Rollnick. I highly recommend getting the book. It’s the way it’s written, I look at these three different sections. One, for kind of a layperson who wants to get a good idea of what it is. Then the next section is a little bit more involved in the last section when you’re really delving deep, and that’s for some serious practitioners of motivational interviewing. As far as the other books. I know a big part of what I address here is the ability to ask questions, you can Google this, the six types of Socratic questions and with Socratic questioning, you know, it may be just a really open-ended way of asking questions. But I think it’s similar to the type of Socratic questioning you get by a lawyer. It’s kind of directed, there’s a path that you want to go down. But the difference here is you’re not trying to get people to move unwillingly. You want to do it where they feel comfortable, you build that relationship, but you’re asking questions. So, you get them to think and learn about the path you want to move towards. And the six types of Socratic questions, you can just Google that, gives you a good solid base for the different types of questions that you can ask when trying to implement motivational conversation.



Audience Question: Can you talk a little bit about approaching youth that is either in the school environment or maybe are victims or within child advocacy centers, with this approach? 

Al Cobos: Again, it’s a similar approach. Finding out what’s valuable to them, what’s of interest to them, and you use that as the beginning of bridge-building with those individuals or the community itself. My younger kids had been involved in a military program. They were kids. I teach adults, but they asked me to teach a bunch of teenagers. And we’re talking younger teenagers 13, 14, 15 years old. And while I had kids that age, I started off what I was going to talk about by asking about the different kinds of video games that they played online. I didn’t play them, but I knew of a couple of games by talking to a few of them prior to me actually doing the teaching part. And that was a way where I was able to build a little bit of a rapport. And then I was able to get into the content or the topics that I wanted to teach. You can use a similar approach. Whether it’s the location, the people there with some of their concerns, what did they like? So, there are just questions kind of build that starting conversation, we start building rapport and then you contain all the questions about where you want to go after you start to develop that question or the series of questions. But, any specifics in terms of those types of environments?

Host: You know, they mentioned the Child Advocacy Center and interviews of minors in a special victims case, those were the specific scenarios that Jefferson provided.

Al Cobos: All right. I mean, absolutely. Criminal investigation. It’s again, this would focus on the rapport-building aspect of it. Get people to feel comfortable, so you can get them to start talking about the factual aspects of what happened.



Audience Question: In our current societal situation, do you feel that the public is even receptive to having a conversation with law enforcement? 

Al Cobos: Yes, not all of them. But we have to take the opportunity, and I’ve always looked at it this way, you know, talking to different groups. If the person I’m speaking to may not agree with what talking about. They may or may not agree with my perspective, but I know there are other people listening. And even though I may not change that person’s perspective, or move them, or nudge them in the right direction, the people listening, they may. So I’m not just asking questions for the one person that I’m speaking to, mindful that there are other people within the group that while they may not be asking the questions, because it’s not their personality to put the question out there or speak in public. But I’m also talking to them. And if I can resonate with them, they may speak up later. They may contact you after the meeting, but I still think it’s in our wheelhouse to make the attempt to talk to them. Because if we don’t, someone else will, and that someone else will set the agenda versus us, at least being able to present the agenda of where we want to go. And again, it’s, it’s like going to church. People take away what they want to take away from it, but the effort is still being made. I think we fall into that category where we have the responsibility to try to set the agenda for our profession. I love what I do. It’s been doing it for a long time, but I think we have to take a hands-on approach to try and set that agenda and talk to people. Because if we don’t, someone else will. And they may move the agenda in a completely different direction.



Audience Question: How do you suggest getting buy-in from executive leadership to move towards this cultural expectation? and I love that question. 

Al Cobos: It’s a series of asking questions. I actually did this with a meeting that I had with our chief, and there’s probably about 20 of us. And in my department, that we have about 10 Chiefs. It’s a fairly large organization, and I wanted to implement a team management course, and, you know, everybody had their ideas, and I was asked, you know, what’s your perspective? And I could have, I could have said, “Hey, I developed this class. I think it’s a great class. This is what I think we should do,” which are all statements, it’s tell. But what I did was ask a number of questions that I knew would, granted it was my own organization so, I kind of understood the value systems, and what’s important to us. But I asked a number of different questions. What’s the role of a sergeant? What do we want from our people? And I asked a group that, got some feedback. What kind of training are we are providing to move in that direction? Got some feedback. And it was probably a 5- to 6-minute process before I mentioned the class, and I think it’s the same thing with motivational conversation. You could ask the question, being in law enforcement, are we a people-based business? That’s a close-ended question. Yes or no? But the follow-up question could be, what do we do good, and what don’t we do well, or what do we do poorly when it comes to communicating? And you get your answers. At what level should we start reinforcing this? Ask that question, and now you’re leading towards a path. Like, hey, maybe we should reinforce it with our new hires. Hey, we’ve got this resource with detectives. This is what they do. Could they be utilized? So, you started that way, but it’s, it’s not a one and done. And I highly recommend, if you know a meeting is coming, talk to people ahead of time. Ask those questions. That way you already get them thinking about it and you’re kind of priming them for an answer. One other technique that you can use, which I think is really effective, if you’re the person writing the agenda for the meeting itself, don’t put topics on there, put questions. So, for motivational conversation, instead of saying one of the agenda items is communication skills. You can ask a question. What are we doing good as an agency with their communication skills? That’s a topic, but it’s also a question, and you get people to start thinking about the very topic before they show up to that meeting. Or at least if they show up to the meeting, they start reading the agenda, you’re already asking questions via the agenda. And, again, it’s not a one and done, it’s a series of conversations, similar to motivational interviewing. You know, clinicians not going to have one conversation with a patient. They’re going to have many, many conversations with the patient, to move them in the right direction. We’re doing the same thing with motivational conversation. And one last thing, I just want to recommend, one more book. I knew there was one more it’s called, Ask Powerful Questions by Will Wise, a very detailed process. It’s more than I think you need, but it’s great to read because it’s foundational for building some good questions.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Motivational Conversations for Investigators.


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