The sensitive information people possess is often difficult to solicit. Attempting gather it without providing any value in return makes the task even harder to accomplish.
You’ll need to make some decisions as you try to pull needed information from those you’re speaking with. One decision will include weighing being forward against being subtle in your approaches.
Subtle vs Forward Approaches to Soliciting Information
Subtlety will seem to be burdensome as a method of soliciting the information you’re trying to attain. Being subtle in your line of questioning may lead to misunderstandings, and typically takes longer to bring about results. Subtle inquiries into the topics you care to know about offer no guarantees.
Straightforwardness on the other hand, typically involves a clear ending to your inquiry. You guarantee yourself to have a clear answer by being forward with those whom you ask for sensitive information from. A clear answer in this regard though, doesn’t mean a clear answer in accordance to what you want to hear.
There is a higher chance that a response to your direct inquiry will be a rejection, as your bluntness in asking can be used as an excuse to bluntly reject. When directly inquiring into certain topics you serve to entrap. You’ll leave less room for people to politely squeeze themselves out of being willing to answer the questions that we ask.
Below, are ways of combining blunt and subtle approaches of soliciting information by using the concept of reciprocity in a novel way.
The approach below will involve bargaining with your own sensitive information. The aim in doing so will be to motivate those you speak with to reciprocate with their own.
The act of indebting will be the subtle foundation to your interaction which sets the tone. Exposing your own information will allow you to directly inquire into others’ knowledge.
This article is about placing those you speak with into a sort of conversational debt. Doing so will entice them to unveil information they otherwise wouldn’t have.
The information presented below is divided into two major sections:
The process of indebting people with your own information.
The process of soliciting information you seek from them.
Incremental Assumption of the Risk of Disclosure
Banks justify charging interest on the loans they give out by citing the risk they adopt in lending those sums of money out. They take on a sufficient amount of risk in an effort to make a profit on the principal amount they lend out. They have stress tests and limits however, and will never give out more than they think a client can repay.
Think of the information you aim to indebt your target with as the principal. In attempting to barter your own information to get something in return, you will assume the risk of not getting anything back for it. However, your goal is to receive information back that is of a greater value than what you lent out. The more you think your target will repay, the more information you should be ready to give out.
Be okay with the fact that the information you will try indebting your target with may not be paid back in full.
There will be ways to protect yourself from the risk you assume in voluntarily giving out some of your information, apart from doing so in an incremental manner. Below are a few additional things to consider:
- Focusing on maintaining any competitive advantage is an obvious mitigation tactic. Do not give out information which can place you at a competitive disadvantage if nothing is returned from their end.
- Old news to you may just be news to them. Repurpose old news about what otherwise is deemed sensitive information about you and expose it as if the information is accurate and valid at the current time.
- Strategically omit details which are missing pieces to the bigger puzzle. For instance, “I’m looking to buy a place,” may be specific enough to provide someone you’re talking to value without voluntarily telling them how many bedrooms and acres you’re looking for precisely. Each time they ask for more detail will be an opportunity to return the favor and ask them for something informative in return.
Imagine yourself seeking to understand how your colleagues format their resume as you search for new opportunities. Information that you’re looking for another job is valuable to those who work with you, and will thereby kick off the indebtment process. It will frame the conversation as sensitive and valuable to whom you’re speaking to. With the sensitivity being mutually understood, you can voluntarily expose the formatting style of your own resume and even some details it contains.
As you do that, you can then inquire into how they format theirs, and perhaps what key words they use in their description of their professional experience. From there, you can inquire into more sensitive topics such as their strategy for applying to new jobs, and whether they embellish any of their past experiences and roles. If you were to inquire into the latter part above right off the bat, you’d be unlikely to get favorable results. Incremental indebtment through the exposure of your own information sets the stage for direct inquiries into sensitive matters.
Starting out your indebtment process incrementally does well to minimize risk and set up a confident build up to sensitive information being exchanged. Test the waters with general revelations and build from there. As you enjoy a streak of favorable responses from the person you’re indebting with your own information, you can up the ante.
Risk Is Mitigated by Interest From the Other Party
In your attempts to mitigate risks, you’ll attempt to filter down to exposing information which isn’t impactful.
Trying to limit how much of a competitive disadvantage you place yourself in can result in making mistakes. A common mistake to make is not electing to divulge information which is interesting to your recipient.
You’ll need to become a master at balancing your competitiveness with their interest in the topic. Often times the most interesting information to others is the type which would place you in a disadvantaged state. Make a continued effort to limit unveiling a weakness that can be exploited, but know that you may need to take some calculated risks.
Below are three pillars of eliciting interest from your recipients.
Ensure that the information you divulge hits on all three of these pointers. Doing so will increase the chances of your recipients being interested in what you have to say and thereby feeling as though they owe you something in return.
The information you try to indebt others with should be exclusive. Public knowledge about you simply coming from your mouth isn’t going to be enough to cut it. By unveiling something not a lot of people know, you’ll do well to make those you speak with want to give something back in return.
Exclusivity is a currency which encourages reciprocity. It is akin to receiving an unexpected favor from our friends and wanting to repay them in some way.
A competitive disadvantage and the act of being vulnerable are different things. One can present themselves as vulnerable while at the same time increasing their competitive advantage over the rest.
For instance, a leader who is emotional and empathetic in the face of an individual’s tragedy will do well to earn their followers’ respect. That leader would undoubtedly show the vulnerability of their emotions. They may though, be acting strategically to benefit his / her position in the eyes of the public.
Vulnerability thereby, can, and should, be added into the information you present. You can use what are traditionally interpreted as weaknesses strategically without placing yourself in a competitive disadvantage.
Your true feelings about the information you aim to indebt others with is a good start.
Personal information does well to exhibit a sense of vulnerability; expose yourself to be anxious and stressed over a business decision, provide insight into your rocky relationship with your mother in law.
Akin to the exclusivity, vulnerability makes people want to help in some shape or form. Help on their part can include unveiling information of their own.
A Call for Their Expertise
A call for expertise does well to help you as you voluntarily present information. It encourages your recipient to prove themselves. A prideful sense of self-worth will back the advice they give and intellect they share if you prop them up to be experts in a specified subject.
Make it known that you view your recipient as an authority in the subject at hand. The conversation can be about winning a contract from a reputable firm or purchasing a new car. Either way, label the person you’re talking to like a winner in that specified domain.
The process will look like you unveiling information about yourself (vulnerable, exclusive) within the context of a specific topic first. Then, you’d unveil that you view your recipient as an expert in that topic. Once that’s done, you’d be able to ask them specific questions founded on the fact that they’re “experts” in the topics you ask them about.
The Inquiry / Solicitation
Know What You Want to Inquire Into Specifically
You’ll now feel that you’ve indebted the individual you’re speaking with enough to possibly get some information out of them. It’ll be time to inquire into what you want to know.
Remember to not ask general questions about the topics you want to know about. If you’ve not thought about what exactly you’d like to borrow from the other person’s wealth of knowledge, you’re not ready to partake in this exercise.
As you share your own information, sprinkle laser guided questions into the dialogue.
Ensure that your questions are clear and specific, without any added commentary.
- Good question: “Did your real estate agent claim the standard 2% or did you work out a better percentage under the table?”
- Bad question: “Did your real estate agent give you a good deal?”
- Good question: “Which sites did you look for RFPs on when you ran your own consultancy?”
- Bad question: “How’d you get access to RFPs from private companies?”
The pairs of questions above are similar in what type of information they solicit. However, extra detail helps with the precision of the answers you receive. By asking general questions, you’ll leave space for general answers.
In the real estate example above, an answer to the general question can simply be, “Yes.” General answers from your counterparts will entice you to go back in and ask a specific question as a follow up. That reentry into the same topic is what you want to avoid.
A more detailed reentry into the same topic will communicate that you hold their potential answer to be important. Red flags will rise from the perspective of those you speak to.
They’d perceive you to be working hard to solicit information out of them rather than nonchalantly asking. Ensure to ask your questions once by infusing them with as much detail as you can the first time.
Give No Time to Forget Their Debts
The process of indebting and soliciting information is a quickly rotating cycle. Don’t think of it as a linear two-step process. Picture it to be a dynamic process in which you may quickly go back and forth between indebting and soliciting.
The repayment of people’s informational debts seems to be most successful when you ask quickly after indebting them with your own.
Don’t give people too much time to think about whether they want to answer your questions, or of your motives. If they begin to wonder why you’re sharing so much, they’re likelier to protect their own information.
Be unpredictable in terms of when you’re sharing information about yourself. Soliciting information from those you’re speaking with in random points of the conversation.
Go back and forth between the two quickly whilst following the principles laid out above. Solicit strategically and precisely, and then go back to sharing information of your own as if their answers were no big deal.
Don’t place too much importance on the answers people give to your inquiries into their sensitive information. Act as if that’s what they’re supposed to do when they’re sharing more information than they’d typically plan on sharing.