5 Ways to Get Victims and Bullies to Open Up

Techniques for interviewing bullies and victims

educator talking with a student

Whether you are interviewing a bully or a victim, how you ask the questions is vital to establishing rapport and for getting to the truth. If you are questioning a bully, it is especially important to ask the right questions due to potentially manipulative behavior. Meanwhile, victims need lots of support and empathy to open up. What’s more, you should never question the victim and the bully at the same time.

Elements of Effective Questions

Effective questions are powerful and thought provoking. They also are open-ended and not leading. Effective questions ask “what” and “how” rather than “why.” Although "why" questions are good for soliciting information or for discovering the motives of others, they also make people defensive. Consequently, it is best to avoid asking “why.”

When you ask a victim “why ” it implies that they did something wrong. Using why questions also can be a subtle way of blaming the victim without intending to. Meanwhile, asking a bully to answer a “why” question may cause them to shut down. For instance, do not ask: “Why did you bully?” Instead, ask: “What are you going to do to keep this from happening again?” This requires the bully to think about how he plans to change rather than minimizing his actions or refusing to take responsibility.

Another important element of effective questioning is listening to the answer and suspending judgment.

Focus on letting go of your opinions and concentrate on understanding. This means being intent on grasping what the person is really saying and discovering what is behind his words. Also, pay attention to your gut and ask for additional information anytime something does not make sense.

Avoid making assumptions and find out what the person you are talking to knows about the problem.

Also, remember to wait for the answer. Do not provide suggestions or ideas. You especially should not tell the bully what the problem is. They need to discover it on their own. You can help them do this by asking questions that make them think about their actions and its impact.

Techniques for Getting the Most Information

Avoid asking yes or no questions. Asking yes or no questions lead to incomplete information. Instead, ask an open-ended question. By using open-ended questions, you will receive insights into the situation that you may not have known existed. You also will get much more information this way. Open-ended questions contain who, what, where, when and how. They also require the person answering to put some thought into their answers. You will get much more information this way. Meanwhile, questions that contain “would,” “should,” “is,” “are” and “do you think,” all lead to yes or no answers. You will find there are a number of lulls in the conversation when you ask questions containing these words.

Ask follow-up questions. Unless you are looking strictly for facts, you will get more information if you dig a little deeper rather than letting an answer stand on its own. Some examples of follow up questions include: “What makes you say that?” and “How did that happen?”

For instance, let’s say that after a victim of bullying describes a particular bullying incident, he says, “He is always doing something.” Instead of just taking that comment at face value and moving on, dig a little deeper. You could say: “What do you mean he is always doing something?” What you may discover is that there is more to the bullying than this particular incident and there is a pattern to the bully’s behavior. Additionally, you may discover that the bully has been targeting students for quite some time. Follow up questions give you additional insight and information. They also let you make more informed decisions about how to discipline a bully.

Use the power of silence. You need to be comfortable with asking a question and waiting for a response. Do not jump in or try to help the person. Instead, sit patiently and wait for the answer. Then, try waiting a little longer before asking another question. A good rule of thumb is to mentally count to ten before moving on. Many times the person you are questioning has more information and will bring it out when you wait for it.

Remember, you have to be comfortable with that silent period. And it is not easy. But if you wait, the dam may break open and you will get a lot more details. The police and military are effective at using silence in their questioning. People naturally feel the need to fill the holes in the conversation. As a result, they will bring out critical bits of information if you are silent and wait for it.

Play dumb. Socrates used this questioning technique quite often. He pretended ignorance in order to encourage others to fully express their views. Then he could make informed decisions based on the information they provided. What’s more, he was not worried about appearing dumb nor was he intent on proving how smart he was. The same is true of successful businesspeople.

Playing dumb and asking people to explain their views several times is an effective way to get more information. It is also helpful to assume nothing and instead ask lots of questions, even questions you may think you know the answer to. What’s more, be sure you are asking for clarification to be sure you understand completely. When you are armed with all the facts, you will be better prepared to get the bully to stop shifting blame and take responsibility for his actions.

Be careful not to interrupt. When you interrupt other people, it communicates that you do not value what they are saying. This is especially important to remember when talking to a victim of bullying. You want to be sure that he knows that you care about what he has to say and that you not trying to rush him to get his story out. Interrupting also stops the person train of thought of the person speaking and directs the conversation in the way you want, not necessarily in the way it would naturally progress.

Ask your question, then let the person answer it in full, even if you think you are not getting the answer you want. Also, wait until they have finished clarifying what was said or to ask additional questions. You can always direct the person back to the topic at hand in with the next question.

If you are limited on time and the person is trying to deflect attention from the problem at hand, then, of course, you do need to interrupt. Just be sure you are calm and respectful when you do it. Even though it is wrong for a bully to shift blame, you want to still keep him talking. You could say something like: “Excuse me, I want to make sure I understand you. What I heard you say is …” Then bring them back to the topic you were discussing.

Remember developing solid questioning skills takes time and patience. But if you want good answers, then you need to start with good questions. So it is well worth the effort.

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