Don’t Let Notes Trip You Up

November 16, 2020

Convincing an informant to talk to you—and to keep talking—can be much harder than you think. Sometimes, even the smallest moves can have a negative impact on your mission to gain intel.

Highly seasoned interview and interrogation expert Pat McCarthy, founder of the Street Crimes training program, knows that all too well. His years of experience have helped him develop an acute level of awareness of the intricate nuances of communicating with informants and anyone else you may need information from. Here are two tips that can help you keep an informant comfortable enough to keep talking.

1. Skip the notes…initially.

If you’re talking with someone who may be hesitant to share information about a person or an incident you’re digging into, just listen as they go through the story or share information you need for the first time. Immediately whipping out a notebook and frantically jotting down everything they say runs the risk of spooking them and cutting off the flow of information. Once they’re talking with you, it’s easier to ease into asking them to repeat or expand on details and to more slowly begin taking notes. Appearing overly eager can run you straight into a wall of silence.

2. When you do take notes, take note of everything, not just the “hot” stuff

When you’re taking notes during an interview, make a conscious effort to take notes after every question. If you only jot notes after they give up a particularly important piece of information, they’ll likely notice that and be more protective of those details if you need to circle back for more. If everything seems equally important and worthy of jotting down, it will be harder for them to know where the real hot spots of information are.

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