Tips to Help Your Organization Handle Investigations with Care

Every workplace investigation requires professionalism, impartiality, and empathy to be successful, impartial, and healing for all parties involved. While these three key elements might seem obvious, it can sometimes be difficult to balance them while conducting an investigation, particularly if the investigator works for the organization.

In this article, we will explain the importance of professionalism, impartiality, and empathy and how to achieve these elements in investigations. We will also elaborate on the benefits of soliciting the services of an impartial, unbiased third party to perform workplace investigations to ensure these three key elements are met throughout the process.

Government of Canada Resource: Investigation Guide for the Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution and Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process

The need for professionalism and impartiality in investigation

Professionalism differentiates the calibre of the investigation and the integrity of the investigator. It is crucial that workplace investigations are conducted with a high level of professionalism throughout each phase. The alternative would result in failure to adequately conduct an investigation and could have significant consequences for the employee, employer, and organization as a whole.

Professionalism in the context of workplace investigation means to:

  • Guarantee confidentiality
  • Provide clear, timely communication
  • Ensure thoroughness and competence

Just as investigations must be conducted with professionalism, impartiality also plays a significant role in the process. The investigator is obligated to collect, process, and analyze information from an objective point of view based solely on education, fact, and reality. Any decision made must be from the foundation of an unbiased opinion without feelings or subjectivity. The perception of bias can also be avoided by removing the opportunity for a conflict of interest between the investigator and the individuals involved in the investigation, such as the complainant and the respondent.

Reaching a level of professionalism and impartiality does not just lie with the investigator – employees and leaders who are identified as “good friends” or adversely, “enemies” with the complainant or accused should not be involved in the same investigation outside of the capacity of a witness.

If your organization is ill-equipped or experiencing issues handling an investigation, engaging with a professional workplace investigator will ensure impartiality and professionalism throughout the process.

What is empathy in the context of workplace investigations?

Channelling empathy during an investigation helps us see the situation from someone else’s perspective. By being empathetic, we are able to consider how they feel in this situation and what they may require from the process to feel comfortable and, ultimately, provide evidence.

Empathy allows us to ask specific questions that lead to a better understanding of the process:

  • “Based on my understanding of this person, will they answer my questions in a clear, honest, coherent way?”
  • “Will this person let their emotions get the best of them?”
  • “Will this individual lie to me to avoid consequences?”

Our investigations are also better conducted with a sense of empathy because it helps manage biases while acknowledging the complex nature of people, ensuring we do not jump to conclusions or make assumptions that can influence our process. To be empathetic is to be aware of other perspectives and feelings, and therefore we can adjust our questioning to appropriately conduct a thorough, effective investigation.

Openness, listening, understanding

Professionalism and impartiality are demonstrated when an investigator demonstrates these three qualities:

Openness – There is no room for preconceived notions or judgement in an investigation. Individuals must sense a genuine openness from the investigator to be able to share their information and feel safe doing so.

Listening – Paying attention during an investigation is the most important skill of the investigator. There is a major difference between hearing responses and actively listening to them while picking up on non-verbal queues, including facial expressions, body language, sighs, scoffs, eye line, etc. Listening enables the investigator to comprehend the individual’s perspective and their recollection of events. This process also ensures the individual has the opportunity to be heard – a crucial feeling throughout this process.

Understanding – To avoid rushing an investigation and potentially reaching the wrong conclusion, investigators must gain a full account of the individual’s version of events by probing with appropriate questions. Their perspective helps to understand the bigger picture and opens the process for interpretation and evaluation.

How to practice empathy

Stay focused on resolution

The main goal of an investigation is to find truth and arise to a conclusion that ensures all parties can maintain a sense of purpose and move forward together, continuing to be productive members of the organization.

Getting caught up in details, emotions, opinions, and other distractions can influence the process and lead to unwanted results. Remember – stay focused on resolution and maintain professionalism and impartiality the whole time.

Get all perspectives

To understand what happened and what needs to happen for a successful resolution, ask all parties for their perspective before delving into allegations. You will get a better understanding of their position and sentiments, which will help you gauge the next course of action for your interview process.

Be thoughtful

Investigators routinely hear confidential, personal details and accounts from individuals across a broad range of topics, and over time, may become desensitized to hearing this type of information. But remember to consider what the individual is going through while participating in an investigation with you. What you may perceive as routine could be highly stressful for them. Take pauses when necessary or return to difficult questions rather than push through.

Be timely and update all parties

Have a clear process and communicate that process to all parties involved. Set expectations and make those expectations known to all parties involved. Communicate clearly and be timely to avoid miscommunications, delays, and disorganization throughout the investigation.

Be mindful of tone and questions

It’s easy to come across as judgemental if you’re not aware of your tone and the type of questions you ask, and how you ask them. Be mindful of how you speak to participants and how they react to your line of questioning.

There is a huge difference between “please elaborate” and “that’s interesting, could you please tell me more about that?” One comes across as distant, rushed, and impatient, while the other is engaged and interested. Adjusting your tone and questions can ensure participants feel listened to and won’t get defensive.

Don’t make it personal

People don’t like to be investigated, and this can be made clear based on their responses and reactions toward the investigator. A respondent may be rude, defensive, abrasive, or even abusive during an investigation. That’s why it’s so important to compartmentalize the events and remember not to take them personally.

Instead, observe the behaviour and consider whether it factors into your credibility assessment. Is their demeanour something that needs to be addressed? Is this person a credible source? Be mindful of how you will continue the investigation while articulating your observations with neutrality.

Seek to understand emotion of the person being interviewed

Whether we intend to or not, our emotions lead our thoughts, reactions, and behaviour. Only individuals who are connected to themselves at a high-conscious level can understand when their thoughts – or emotions – and ego are getting in the way of their truth.

When conducting investigations, examine the emotions of the individual sitting across from you – are they scared? Nervous? Angry? Agitated? Apathetic? Manic? Aloof? Calm? Considering their emotions helps to understand the underlying meaning behind them.

Study human behaviour

To be able to adapt to the fluctuations and emotions presented during investigations and deliver an unbiased solution, it’s important to gain an understanding of the human condition, including our similarities, differences, and complexities. This means to study current readings in psychology, philosophy, leadership, and other general teachings under the umbrella of humanity, anthropology, and social sciences.

Professional investigators, mediators, facilitators, and conflict-resolution-experts seek to understand as much about human behaviour as possible to ensure they are prepared for various results and reactions throughout each process of an investigation.


The role of an investigator is to find out what happened by going through a process that is fair, timely, and confidential. Furthermore, investigators must also focus on how they conduct their investigations and whether there are areas for improvement.

Balancing professionalism, impartiality, and empathy is the only way to conduct a successful workplace investigation that will ensure all parties can move forward together. While these three core elements may seem obvious, they can often be difficult to achieve in most workplaces.

If your organization is experiencing conflict, consulting with a neutral investigator will resolve distracting, challenging situations and empower all participants involved to settle on an agreeable solution and continue being productive within the organization.

At Global Mindful Solutions, we have established a process that aims to provide insightful, comprehensive solutions with a compassionate and unbiased approach. This allows all participants to focus on getting back to work and continue making a positive contribution to their organization while leading a fulfilling role in their careers.

Contact Global Mindful Solutions to get started with neutral, knowledgeable, and effective investigation, mediation and facilitation services.

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