FOUNDATION SKILLS AND METHODS
Using an interview you have conducted during the course of your work as a trainee probation officer, provide a critique of your conduct of the interview…
The interview chosen for this specific task involved a male in his 50s, AA, who is currently on a 6 month Community Rehabilitation Order and 3 month curfew Order for driving whilst disqualified. He is known to the Probation Service as he has been on a similar order prior to this one for drink driving offences. As with his last order he has complied fully with this one, and having completed his 12 visits within the first 12 weeks he has recently moved on to visiting the Probation office fortnightly, which is in line with procedures dictated by National Standards. He was my first case as a trainee and we have worked through the areas proposed in his initial supervision plan, including alcohol consumption, his attitudes to potential victims, his decision making skills and opportunities to increase his chances of gaining employment. The interview conducted for the video will, for the record, be the first time I have seen AA since the commencement of his fortnightly visits.
The purpose of this specific interview is primarily to assess three key areas. The first area is an assessment of the goals set in his supervision plan. Alcohol use, employment issues and finance are all important subjects that will be assessed through advocacy and SMART worksheets. According to Kadushin (1997)……
“The simplest definition of an interview is a conversation with a deliberate purpose, a purpose
mutually accepted by the participants.”
By identifying a purpose, and subsequently putting it into practice, the interview avoids becoming simply a ‘professional conversation.’
I will also be talking to him about the impending removal of his tag, which will allow him to move freely to and from home, with particular reference to his attitude and plans surrounding his new found freedom. Lastly I will be assessing his attitudes to driving whilst disqualified, and looking at why his views and opinions have changed and how his experiences with the police, the courts and the probation service have affected his life. To conclude, the overall purpose of the taped interview is to assess AA’s progress up to this point of his CRO.
With an initial plan encompassed by the purpose of the interview I had two areas that needed addressing before the interview could take place. The first was to establish the specifics of the interview plan, in terms of the questions I would pose and the worksheets I would use.
The second area of interest was to organize the environment within which the interview would take place. One of my responsibilities as a Probation Officer is to create an environment that would be conductive to achieving the purpose of the interview, and yet at the same time I would be restricted as to which environment I would use. There were only a handful of rooms to choose from which had cameras situated in the corners, and after much deliberation I decided to choose the smaller room with the least amount of furniture in it. My reasons for that choice were primarily that I feel a large room would be a little daunting for an offender, and they could become easily distracted by numerous other objects in the room (Sutton 1994). A smaller room simply containing a table and a few chairs was in my opinion more appropriate as there were fewer items to distract and it yielded a more personal environment that encouraged the interview to become the main focus.
Before starting the actual interview I read the agreement to AA, which essentially stated what the purpose of the interview was and in what context it would be used. AA agreed with the statement and therefore gave his consent for the interview to proceed. When looking at the interview my initial concern is the way I sat. According to Egan (1998)……
“…one should face the client squarely, adopting an open posture, lean towards one another,
maintain eye contact and be relaxed.”
I faced AA squarely, but tended to lean back and be a little too relaxed, almost blasé. To adopt a casual posture shows an air of confidence about the work one does, but to be perceived by AA as being so informal could run the risk of me not being equipped to assert my professional role or establish the purpose of the interview. Throughout the interview I also tended to lean forward, fidget, mess with my pen, paperwork and even my hair. According to Kadushin (1983) this behaviour signifies a ‘self comforting role’ which acts to counteract the anxiety felt by an individual. Furthermore this type of behaviour is believed to be a substitute for action that one cannot take, and on reflection I did feel uncomfortable simply because I was aware that the interview was being recorded. However in my experiences as a trainee I would normally look for this type of behaviour in an offender
According to Priestly and McGuire (1983) effective interviews include a ‘beginning, middle and an end.’ Throughout studying this module I have realized that the introduction forms an integral part of the interview process. According to Kadushin (1983)….
“The worker needs to make the purpose of the interview explicit to himself before he can communicate his
perception of it to the interviewee, and before he can hope to establish a mutually acceptable purpose.”
I feel that my introduction was ineffective specifically because I failed to communicate the purpose of the interview. Instead, although I knew myself what the purpose of the interview was, I began verbal communication by discussing what AA had done over the Christmas period, negating an explanation to AA as to what we would be doing. During this stage of the interview I also gave too much information about myself. Keats (2000) suggests an interview should be ‘unidirectional,’ yet I perceived the flow of information at this point to be reciprocal, which is not professional. Improvement within this area must come in the form of how I use my authority, maintaining ‘professional relationships’ and by acknowledging the unidirectional flow of the therapeutic interview.
The main body of the interview allowed me to critically assess the content of the interaction, my verbal and non-verbal communication, how the interview flowed in conjunction with the purpose, and analysing my listening skills. According to Egan (1986) listening is valuable when it is ‘listening for understanding’ yet I felt that my listening tended to be somewhat slightly ‘filtered’ (Egan 1986), that is I chose what I wanted to hear to an extent whilst trying to concentrate on completing the purpose of the interview. As a trainee I make sure that bias does not surface in an interview, but as many researchers suggest sometimes you are unaware of your own bias. This is something I must be aware of in future situations as filtered listening can distort outcomes at stages of information gathering.
In terms of my non-verbal skills I felt that my maintenance of eye contact was noticeable throughout, along with positive reinforcements of nodding, smiling and head shaking, which Forbes and Jackson (1980) feel is necessary to the effectiveness of an interview. According to Argyle (1983) the functions of NVC include the conveying of attitudes, self presentation and supporting verbal communication, and although the latter two displayed positive signs, I felt the constant fidgeting, fiddling with objects/papers and laid back appearance contributed to create an appearance of over-confidence and arrogance.
Throughout the main body of the interview I felt that although the verbal communication flowed, I found that I kept drifting away from the objectives I set out, through either AA or myself going off on a tangent. Although I would recognize this was happening, and refer back to the purpose, this drifting would occur again and the same patterns ensued. This essentially demonstrates my inability and inexperience to direct interviews effectively. This ultimately resulted in AA taking control of the interview at such times, and the interview becoming ‘conversational’ and non-purposeful. This may have arisen due to the differences between myself and AA, he being much older and maybe attempting to assert his own values and opinions on me.
This could indicate a reversal of the interviewer/interviewee and I must be aware of that danger, and maintain my professional role and the purpose of an interview. According to Egan (1986) empathy and appreciation are important to the interview being successful. He adds that empathy involves..
“Understanding the experiences, behaviours and feelings of others as they experience them.”
Throughout the interview I felt that I was able to empathize with AA on many occasions, particularly on our discussion surrounding his tag. He explained the impact of the tag on his life, and what he could do when it was taken off and I felt that at this stage my listening and empathy skills were accomplished. This was emphasized by my positive reinforcement (head nodding, smiling) when AA spoke of being able to visit his family and work later when his tag was removed, as opposed to using negative reinforcement and challenging him should he mention any form of criminal activity he may wish to pursue.
The ‘middle’ of the interview also demonstrated my verbal skills as an interviewer. Overall I felt that I directed myself well in utilizing open ended questioning, which according to Priestly and Maguire (1987) is a ‘useful’ strategy to employ. This is strengthened by the view that an interviewer should only speak for ‘one third of the total interview’ (Kadushin 1983) as open ended questioning encourages the interviewee to speak openly and freely. However, as I mentioned previously this type of style holds the danger of what I have termed ‘conversation drift,’ and that must be controlled and restricted by the interviewer in order to maintain the focus of the interview.
AA’s use of language in this stage heralded my next failure, which was a failure to challenge his use of inappropriate language on three occasions. On reflection I feel that swearing should be challenged as it is not socially acceptable, and a line of questioning such as ‘why do you feel the need to swear?’ or ‘how could you express that differently?’ would have been appropriate.
The ‘end’ of the interview is in my opinion as important as the introduction in that goals are set for the next meeting and we review what has been gained from the session. In terms of goals set I asked AA to take a worksheet home and complete it for the next meeting, but it is my view that the goals set for the interview were not full met, that is I did not draw all of the necessary information needed to fully attain the purpose of the interview. This again can be applied to my lack of experience in the field of interviewing. My conclusion was somewhat brief, and took no formal structure, as opposed to the introduction and middle sector of the interview, which did have a clear format. It was rather rushed and ended abruptly, with no clarity as to what we would cover in the next session. This is something I will have to address and re-invent in order for my interviews to end professionally and clinically.
I feel that overall one can be overly critical of my performance in numerous fields, but there are also positives that can be drawn. Through reflection of my performance there are a lot of my techniques that need to be modified and refined, most notably within the sphere of non-verbal communication, my control of verbal exchanges and my ineptitude to challenge certain subjects such as the use of specific types of language. There are however also plus points such as my type of questioning, my listening skills and the utilization of resources available to the probation service such as the SMART worksheets and the manipulation of the environment.
The exercise has been extremely useful in identifying my strengths and weaknesses in the interview setting, and it will lead me to change the way in which I plan and conduct interviews.
KADUSHIN, A. & KADUSHIN, G. (1997) The Social Work Interview
Columbia University Press
EGAN, G. (2002) The Skilled Helper
California : Brookes/Cole
PRIESTLY, P. & McGUIRE, J. (1983) Learning To Help
London : Tavistock
KEATS, D. (2000) Interviewing: A Practical Guide For Students & Professionals
Oxford : Oxford University Press
SUTTON, C. (1994) Social Work, Community Care & Psychology
Leicester : British Psychological Society
BRAMMER, L. (1993) The Helping Relationship:Process and Skills 5th Ed.
Allen & Bacon.
ARGYLE (1983) Found in SUTTON, C. (1994)
Social Work, Community Care & Psychology
FORBES, D. C. & JACKSON, W. F. (1987) Clinical Medicine
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