Investigative Reporting Strategies: How To Get People To Talk

TalkFinding dirt on someone can be rewarding as well as exciting. It is the thrill of the hunt.

Sometimes we really do need valuable information such as what the babysitter is doing with our  kids, why exactly two of your best friends are fighting or who’s next in line to get that promotion.

Ample work goes into gathering reliable information from others, but if you are curious enough there are quite a few ways of obtaining the juicy stuff.

Going straight to the source is your best bet.

In college, investigative journalism fascinated me  so when I attended the Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference, I jotted down notes in the “How to get them to talk” class and actually used some of the suggested methods successfully.

Eventually, I end up using them more at the dinner table.

Before I offer methods of squeezing the truth out of people, let’s touch upon the importance of treating chats as casual conversation instead of berating questions. Let the person do the talking but control the conversation. This takes practice and practice makes perfect.

Remember to embrace awkward silences as people tend to feel uncomfortable when there is a gap of space in the dialog. This is often when you will find out valuable information. I guess silence is golden.

One of the most beneficial times to interview a person is when they are driving because they are distracted.

Asking small details such as where the person was born, what was on their desk or what they were wearing can help them remember more by reliving the day and/or situation.

If the person you are trying to get information from isn’t one of your favorite people, fake it. Do not have a chip on your shoulder. This is your chance to be a great actor and it is all about getting what you want.

Now that we covered the basics, here are some sly methods on how to obtain info from friends, foes and strangers without having to stand on the toilet seat in the ladies room.

Assumed Knowledge: Pretend to have knowledge or associations in common with the person. The more connected they feel with you, the more they just may spill the beans.

Bracketing: Provide a high and low estimate in order to entice a more specific number if it is quality you are looking for. “I assume she is doing well for herself. I’d guess her sales are between 40 and 50 dollars.” Response: “Probably around 100 dollars.”

Can you top this? Tell an extreme story in hopes the person will want to top it. See why acting is important here?

Confidential Bait: Pretend to divulge confidential information in hopes of receiving confidential information in return. “Just between you and me…” or “Can you keep a secret…”

Criticism: Criticize an individual or organization in which the person has an interest in hopes the person will disclose information by coming to defense.

Deliberate False Statements: Say something wrong in the hopes that the person will correct your statement with true information.

Feigned Ignorance: Pretend to be ignorant of a topic in order to exploit the person’s tendency to educate. My favorite.

Flattery: Use praise to coax a person into providing information.  Devious but reliable.

Good Listener: Exploit the instinct to complain or brag, by listening patiently and validating the person’s feelings (whether positive or negative). If a person feels they have someone to confide in, he or she may share more information.

Macro to Micro: Start a conversation on the macro level, and then gradually guide the person toward the topic of actual interest.

Mutual Interest: Suggest you are similar to a person based on shared interests, hobbies, or experiences, as a way to obtain information or build a rapport before soliciting information.

Quote Reported Facts: Reference real or false information so the person believes that bit of information is public information.

Ruse Interviews: Pretend to be a headhunter and call the person to ask about experience, qualifications and recent projects.

Target the Outsider: Ask about an organization that the person does not belong to. Often friends, family, vendors, subsidiaries, or competitors know information but may not be alerted about what not to share.

Happy digging!

Source: FBI

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