Here are some mind games that Erickson learned over his years of service, and his training with John E. Reid and Associates, which you can use to gather confirmation and further intel from even the most tight-lipped person.
1. Start with a three-pointer.
“So for this example, let’s say that you believe an employee has shared confidential information about your company with a competitor,” Erickson says. “You want to start by asking the same question three different ways. You’re not looking for them to screw up their story, you are looking for carefully repeated phrases, signals that they’ve rehearsed their answer. A ‘That’s my story and I’m sticking to it’ kind of response. In business, politics and warfare, overly deliberate choices of words are good tip-offs that there is something they don’t want you to know.”
2. Get on their side.
“Rather than pounding my hand on a table and screaming, ‘You need to tell me everything or else!’ I take the opposite approach. I try to show them that I’m on their side. I’ll say things like, ‘Look, I know you say you didn’t do it, but I understand why you did. You didn’t really have a choice. If I was in your shoes, I’d probably have done the same thing.’ A little empathy is sometimes enough to get someone to open up and unburden themselves.”
3. Start telling the story.
“If I’m just getting shrugs, I’ll just start telling the story of what happened based on whatever facts I have. So again with the subject of an employee sharing confidential information, I’d say something like, ‘You and your buddy went out for drinks, you’re just B.S.-ing, things come up in casual conversation. I get it. It slipped. Totally understand how that can happen. And then he offers you $20,000 for information–‘ and that’s when sometimes a person will jump in and correct you, ‘He didn’t give me any money!’ Now you’ve got a partial confession. And now if you see that saying something wrong prompted this guy to talk, I’d go ahead and deliberately say something else wrong. ‘Fine, you didn’t take any money, but this guy got you into a country club, hooked you up with a golf outing…’ Just keep going down different roads and give them ample opportunity to correct you, confess or reveal things they don’t want to. Be their friend, be gentle and understanding. Then once you get what you want, no more Mr. Nice Guy.”