How to get the truth out of someone?

Asking people to tell you the truth will simply not cut it.  Human beings are wired for survival. And now that we do not risk to be eaten by a wild animal with teeth longer than my arm, survival has a different meaning. That meaning really depends on people’s situation.  For some people, modern-day survival means to get that new job, or to go out with that gorgeous looking person or really to pass an exam.  As a result, people may try to deceive you to get what they want, “survive”.

How do you get the truth then?  There is a lot of info on how to spot a lie e.g. Discrepancies between what they say and their body language, avoiding eye contact, rolling their eyes towards the upper left, and the list goes on. Helpful, but not enough.  Because anyone who wants to “survive” bad enough will make sure that all these things are coherent. 

What I am offering with this blog post is simple but will set you apart from the masses.  How to make people tell you the truth.

Recently I had a series of conversation with important people.  My objective was to show them how amazing I am.  My recipe for success was 50% motivation, 50% preparation.  Let’s zoom on the 50% prep.  When I prep for this type of interaction I get to know everything I can on the people I will meet. We are talking Google searches, Linkedin, social media but also talking to people who know the people I want to impress. Getting examples of how they are.  In that type of set up, 99% of the time I do great.  And most people will with enough motivation and preparation will.  Because the messages can be tested, rehearsed, and delivered flawlessly.

What if you want to go beyond my carefully crafted messages?  What do you do?  Create an element of surprise that will destabilize me.  People, when under pressure, typically revert to what they know best. It is like they are on autopilot.  I am no exception.  I had 2 days of conversations with these important people.  Meeting them in their offices, over lunch, or at a coffee bar.  Except for 1 interaction that did not happen as expected.  Instead, it happened on a train on the way back to the hotel I stayed.  So a casual place.  The conversation started very casually.  I thought to myself, this is a get to know each other on the personal level kind of meeting, especially considering that we had met previously.  I relax, let the conversation flow on its own.  That was great until the conversation suddenly switched to intense professional questions.  That’s when she destabilized me. The professional questions kept flowing, the tone of the discussion was different.  It went from an easy layup to Lebron James came back from nowhere to block me.  Unfiltered answers came pouring out of my mouth.  It was messy, not structured. Definitely not my best self.

Mission accomplished for her, mission failed for me. Or did I really fail? Clearly, I was set up. A smart set up.  What was she expecting? probably authenticity, some level of vulnerability.  And that is what I gave her. Not what I wanted to give her but what she wanted.  So potentially a win in the end for everybody.

Here is the recap on how to get the truth out of someone:

  1. Make them feel comfortable.  chit chat, let them lead the conversation and talk about what they want
  2. Meet them several times first.  The first encounter is usually to break the ice, get to know each other.  People will have their guard up.
  3. Jump right in. No warning shots, ask the toughest question first. Then build on it and dig deep.
  4. Transition back to your charming self.  People may be in shock. It is ok to get the truth out of them, but this is not the end game.  Once you got what you need, make people feel comfortable again

This is manipulation you may think. Yes, it is. Nowadays we can never be too careful with who we trust.

Photo by Scott Rodgerson on Unsplash