I’m a pretty extroverted guy (usually) and I like to talk to people. It’s interesting to find out about what makes people tick. These days people don’t talk that much to each other and it’s sad. Most people are unfortunately more focused on their phones than they are on the world around them.
Sometimes you get one of these kinds of people in the office. It’s always helpful to know your clients so you can relate to them better and see what motivates them, etc. Plus, when you get to know your patients they will like you more and stay with you longer.
I’ll get to the tricks in just a second, but first I want to share how I first discovered the art of elicitation.
Before I decided to change the trajectory of my life and become a chiropractor, I majored in International Relations and Russian language. I always had a fondness for history, learning about wars, politics, political science, intelligence and the military. I was in college when 9-11 happened, and during the war in Afghanistan.
Naturally, I paid attention to what was going on there. After the war, a lot of great books were written which I devoured, including Jawbreaker, and First In about the intelligence guys who were on the ground before the military rolled in, Kill Bin Laden about the search for Bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains, Not a Good Day to Die, about Operation Anaconda and the battle of the Shahi Kot valley, and probably my favorite, The Mission, The Men, and Me by Lt. Col. Pete Blaber who was in charge of Advanced Force Operations and the special operation teams providing recon at the forward operating base during Operation Anaconda.
One part of his book went into detail about a former Egyptian Army guy called Ali Mohammad. Ali Mohammad’s insatiable search for adventure and moral relativism eventually got him in trouble.
As a former Major in the Egyptian Special Forces in the 1980s, he helped train Afghani mujaheddin, including Osama Bin Laden and others, to fight the soviets. In 1988 he moved to the US and married a woman to become a US citizen. He then enlisted in the US Army. His ultimate desire was to become an FBI or CIA agent.
Mohammad expected to join the US Army Special Forces. Despite not attending the SF qualification course he was attached to an SF unit teaching Arabic culture. He was frustrated at the lack of action he was experiencing, and took a leave to secretly go back to Afghanistan and fight Soviets. After returning with some Soviet belt buckles he removed from some Soviet soldiers he killed, incredibly he was allowed to to continue with the US Army. Reports indicate he may have been working with US intelligence during this time, which would explain why he wasn’t discharged from the Army and court martialled for excursion into Afghanistan.
Several years later he again returned to Afghanistan where he used his Special Forces training to train al-Qaeda, including Bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda members, in unconventional warfare. In the 90s he was involved in setting up al-Qaeda cells in Tanzania and Kenya. His work eventually led to the bombings of US Embassies in those countries.
Allegedly he attempted to become an FBI informant earlier in the 90s. The FBI kept an eye on him and after the embassy bombings they searched his apartment and discovered evidence of Mohammad engaging in terrorist activities. The FBI arrested him and charged him with 5 counts of conspiracy.
After his trial he decided to cooperate with the US government to aid them in their search for Bin Laden, possibly to reduce his sentence. In 2001 after the attacks on the World Trade Center, Blaber met with Mohammad in prison to get information on Bin Laden.
In his book, Blaber mentions he took elicitation and counter-elicitation courses to prepare for his meeting with Mohamamad. To elicit means to bring forth, or draw out. Elicitation essentially is getting information out of someone when they might be reluctant to give it out. Counter-elicitation is recognizing when someone might be using the techniques on you so you don’t fall into their traps.
Well, when Blaber mentioned he took courses in elicitation, it naturally piqued my interest. I’m a real inquisitive guy and I’m always interested in learning new things, so I set out to learn the tricks of elicitation. There isn’t a whole lot of material out there on the subject. What’s available is mainly geared to individuals engaged in intelligence gathering for business or other reasons. Anyway, I got most of what is available and I’m going to share some of the easiest tricks with you now.
This information can be used to get information from people and works pretty well, even if you aren’t a great conversationalist. These techniques will improve your conversation skills, and if you practice them and make them part of your regular conversation you’ll soon have people telling you all sorts of stuff. I use these without thinking about it anymore, and even when I don’t have any particular information I’m trying to elicit. Frequently I learn more than I care to learn, or I get the “target” to go on and on and then I can’t get them to stop talking. You might have this problem too so I advise you to learn some techniques to end conversations. Also, when you are able to identify the techniques you’ll know when they’re being used on you.
There are several techniques but I’m going to share some of the ones I’ve found most useful and easiest to use. The texts say you should have an idea of what exactly you want to elicit. For our sake you’re going probably come up with that on the fly as you speak to your clients or whomever.
The Provocative Statement
Provocative doesn’t mean offensive. It means something that just may surprise your target and momentarily put him off guard. It’s a slight jab to disrupt your target’s thoughts or state of mind. It’s like a pattern interrupt, which I’ve written about before on this blog and in my book. It could be a non-sequitur related to the direction you want to take the conversation, or a “damaging admission;” something personal like a feeling you have or a frustration. Essentially it’s a “lead.” You are leading your target to ask YOU for more info, where you can set up another technique to get more information out of your target. You can also use this technique by itself to draw out opinions and positions of various people regarding more sensitive topics like politics, etc.
Quid Pro Quo
Quid Pro Quo means “something for something,” and indicates an even exchange. In our context, it means that if you tell someone something, they will respond with something of their own, especially if you frame it properly. If you tell someone a secret, or some exclusive piece of information, the trust level goes up and the chance of them reciprocating with something secretive or exclusive of their own will be pretty high. You are counting on them reciprocating when you use this technique. Just be sure you don’t spill too many beans when using this technique. Remember the idea is to get information from someone else, not give up your own.
Everybody appreciates some sincere flattery. If you commend or compliment someone on something, they will probably talk about that thing you’re complimenting. This will open other paths of communication which you can explore.
“No way!” “Yeah! you won’t believe it but…” When you show disbelief or shock / surprise at something, your target will have a hard time not talking about it. Same phenomenon works if you’re impressed by something your target says. You can pretty easily set this up this technique with a quid pro quo. If your target stops yet you still want more info you can use:
Repeating Words / Mirroring phrases
If someone mentions something you want to learn more about, you can put that word or phrase into a question and repeat it back. Often they will expound. Here is a rudimentary example: let’s say your client mentions they hurt their back in a serious rugby injury. If you want to learn more you can parrot back “rugby injury?” Further, if that seems too obvious of a prompt (if you’re going after something more sensitive), you can make an oblique reference to the topic with something related to keep the conversation going; put the word or phrase in different terms and parrot it back. So, instead of parroting back “rugby injury,” you can say, “ahh yes, contact sports, fun.. to keep the conversation going. They might respond with something like “yeah tell me about it, I’ve got a number of injuries playing rugby, dislocated shoulder, torn acl…” Depending on the target’s character you might go the sarcastic route by saying something like “an injury playing rugby? that’s weird… I thought rugby was a pretty easy, safe sport.” These are basic examples, but you get the point. Alternatively you can:
Make an Incorrect or Naive Statement
A lot of people seek recognition for what they know. If you have or sense you have one of these people in front of you, let them flatter their ego a little bit by giving them an incorrect or naive statement. They won’t be able to resist setting you straight, and you can learn a lot when they correct you. This tactic works very well, but if you are too egregious with your naivete or incorrect statement your target might think you’re dumb, so tread lightly.
That pretty much wraps up the techniques I want to share with you. Now that you read about them you should practice using them in your day to day conversations. Start practicing them today and soon you’ll be using them automatically.
If you liked the information in this post you should buy my book because I share a lot of “secret” type info in it that I think you’ll like.