Why Rationalize?

A question many early investigators ask themselves when they start getting into the field and completing investigations is “Why would I want to help a person feel better about what they have done by using a rationalization?”

It is a fair question. Using a rationalization seems counterintuitive and goes against the way many people are taught to think about inappropriate behavior or conduct. We are often taught to own up to our mistakes, accept the consequences, learn from the error, and move forward. By this same logic, people who do not own up to their mistakes are often looked down upon by society. Even the court systems seem to be set up to encourage people to admit some wrongdoing by way of plea deals. In many cases, doing so results in lighter sentencing than if someone holds their ground and denies until the very end an is ultimately convicted. Though, that is a topic best left for another time.

For investigators, interviewers, or interrogators (III) faced with the task of obtaining truth about a situation post incident in the workplace, the dynamic is a bit different. Often one of the biggest concerns of an employee being investigated is not going to jail, but rather loosing their job. The difficulty begins then when the subject of an interview is not interested in participating with the investigation. People who are afraid of loosing their job are not likely to simply confess to doing something that could get them fired even though it’s the truth. This is when the rationalization becomes helpful.

By rationalizing an action committed by a subject, the III can minimize the perception of the severity of that action to a point where it makes sense to admit to committing said act. For example, it is much more socially acceptable to have stolen a coat from your employer to keep your family warm than it is to have stolen that same coat with the intention to sell it at a pawnshop for drug money. By rationalizing, the III allows the subject to save face and feel better about admitting to stealing the coat. Then, with that confession, III’s advise decision makers of all the pertinent facts so they can make informed decisions, taking into account the fact that the subject acknowledged his or her wrongdoing and including that information into the decision making process.

Utilizing this technique will see likely seem strange at first to new III’s. That’s ok, practice with coworkers and discuss with your general counsel before using in practice to avoid any unintended legal pitfalls.

Have a thought? I’d love to hear from you! Please feel free to leave questions, comments, concerns, curiosities below and we will continue to grow together.


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