Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Have you ever been in a conversation and felt disrespected, perhaps even rude, even though you wanted to be empathetic and respectful when asking a question, especially about a sensitive topic?
You had to ask the question, but now the person you were trying to reassure seems irritated and worried. They may even back away from you, fold their arms, and ask you why you asked them that question. You didn’t intend to seem pushy, pushy, or insincere – but you unintentionally did. Now ask yourself: What did you do wrong and how can you save this relationship?
Asking questions to get information can make people nervous and worried, even if our questions are legitimate. For example, if your significant other comes home much later than expected without notifying you, your first attempt might be to ask them where they have been and why they were late. Although these questions are harmless, they could be perceived as accusatory by the other person and the response could be defensive. You deserve an answer. So how can you get them?
Related: Use This Mind Trick to Get Someone to Tell You the Truth
What other choice do you have to get information from someone if you can’t ask a question? You use a provocative statement – instead of a question – and uncover the information. And the best part is that the other person won’t even know you’re looking for information because they won’t hear any questions. This may sound a bit like a cloak and dagger, but that’s not the case. This technique is a brilliant conversational skill.
Let’s say you’re trying to sell your product to a potential new buyer you don’t know. To get to know them, ask them specific questions to find clues that will help you build rapport and discover their vulnerabilities. If you’ve just met them and don’t have their trust yet, they may think you’re too nosy. Instead of making a connection, they view your interrogation as suspicious, and because they feel uncomfortable around you, they don’t trust you.
The other aspect to consider about questions is that they can draw attention to the type of information you want to collect. You may not want your stakeholders to know what you are up to because they may remain silent.
There is a better way to gather information while hiding your goal and creating a comfortable environment that convinces people to want to open up to you. It’s called elevation.
The art of elevation
Collection is often associated with human intelligence or HUMINT and is classified under titles such as “craft” or “collection”. However, the survey is not just for military intelligence experts. These are skills that can be used in both the private and public sectors and are becoming increasingly popular as in-demand business intelligence skills. This technique is an art form because you have to practice it and get used to it to maintain credibility and confidence.
So what exactly is the art of survey? It is simply a matter of rephrasing questions into narrative statements that provoke another person to answer. If done correctly, the person will tend to either agree or disagree with your provocative statement, or offer more information to correct you, clarify your statement, or expound on the issue. In any case, when you use surveys, people generally feel the urge to talk to you.
So instead of asking someone, “How much are you willing to spend for your future success?” To be successful.” I estimated how much they spend per year. If I’m wrong, they’ll correct me. If I’m right, they might just nod. Either way, I’ll know when I’m around. I also included some flattery to make them feel good.
The bottom line is that people find it easier to share information when you don’t ask for it.
Related: How to Apply Military Intelligence to Entrepreneurship
Why does the survey work so well?
The reason survey is so successful is because it utilizes aspects of human psychology. Typically, people want to be heard, be honest, feel flattered, feel important, correct others when they are wrong, and offer information when offered information (quid pro quo). Elevation helps build rapport and can create a comfortable, relaxed environment. The other person is unaware of your intentions and believes you are having a casual conversation. Therefore, they tend to remain relaxed and provide information openly.
Early in my career as a human intelligence officer, I was trained in data collection. When I conducted interrogations at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, I used questioning. Although I was trained in approach and questioning techniques for intelligence gathering, the investigation allowed me to gain more information. It worked brilliantly because the inmates assumed I wasn’t collecting details, just having a conversation. As a result, they opened up more about what they knew.
Since 2002, I have used data collection in many situations: interviews with litigants, requirements analysis, and networking opportunities. The survey helped me discover the truth, buy wisely, and sell competitively.
Next time you feel like questions are doing more harm than good, change your question to a provocative statement and elicit the crucial information instead. You will maintain the relationship, gain their trust, make the person feel comfortable, and hide what you are looking for. What could be better than that?