I recently took interrogation and interview training as part of my other other job. And I learned some great tips that would apply well to the pastoring/discipling/counseling context. I’m not saying I interrogate the people I’m discipling…I’m just saying that getting information and listening carefully are skills that transcend both interrogation AND ministry. : D

  • Take notes to create silent moments during the discussion. This allows more space for the person to talk.
  • Ask behavior inducing questions. For example, in counseling someone who you suspect is addicted to something, pose a “hypothetical” such as “I’m working with a woman who has an addiction. How do you suggest I handle the situation?”
  • Have a private environment for the discussion. Minimize distractions. Ensure there are no physical barriers – like a table or desk – between you.
  • Invade their personal space if you need a break-through. In getting closer to a person, you escalate their anxiety, which in turn creates a need for “release” of the pressure, which can lead to confession, repentance, or truth. (Use sparingly!)
  • Contractions = truth. So someone who says, “I didn’t do it” is more likely telling the truth than someone who says, “I did not do it.” Also, if they use a gesture such as nodding or shaking their head to respond to a question rather than verbalizing a response, then follow-up on that point. This indicates a place of sensitivity or shame.
  • Get body language barriers down by modeling for them the body language you want to see. In other words, if you want them to uncross their legs and arms (closed, defensive signs), then uncross your legs and arms. *Note: Pastors/Disciplers should never cross their arms while pastoring/discipling someone!* Stay 4.5-5 feet away to maximize openness, unless you need a breakthrough of some kind (see point above).
  • People turn their body to the side if they perceive you as a threat or don’t want to talk about a subject. Situate yourself to be squared off with the person to whom you’re talking (shoulders reflect shoulders). Then watch to see when (if at all) they shift their shoulders to the side. That’s a subject area that they don’t want to discuss.

I think that these tips could be helpful especially when dealing with spiritual matters. Much of what we react to is occurring in us spiritually — we might not even be conscious of the fact that the grief of our childhood is too painful to discuss now. But in counseling, if I notice that someone turned to the side when I began to ask them about their childhood, then I know that there’s something there that’s a place of brokenness, hurt, or damage where I could bring healing and restoration.