This is a guest article by author D. Alan Johnson. His latest book Asgard is set in Africa and looks at the role of Private Military Contractors. David himself is a Military Contractor and has been since 1988. We were talking recently about life in general, and the world as a whole. I invited him to offer his thoughts – Simon

The art of Elicitation is as old as humanity. One definition of elicitation is:

“The art of gaining information during conversation without the subject being aware that he is giving it.”

However, for most of our history it was only taught to royalty and top military leaders. This helped the aristocracy maintain its power. There are records of this in Europe, China, and Japan. In the 1800’s the art was formalized into a set of rules and techniques and has been part of an intelligence officer’s training ever since.

Wayne Taylor, a retired Strategic Counter-Intelligence officer, offers us an “Elicitation for Dummies” version of this very complex people skill.

Starting with the example of how we have all been puzzled after driving out of a car dealership with a more expensive car than we went there to buy, he explains how business has included these precepts into our purchasing experiences.  Classic elicitation can be described as targeting and individual who:

•    Probably has the information you desire
•    May or may not admit to having the information
•    May or may not be willing to share the information
•    Should not know that you are even interested in the information.

Then, using Human Nature (for example the Desire to Teach) you plant thoughts so that your target can correct your “misconception”.

Complex concepts such as the “Onion Theory” of personality are simplified and inserted into Conversation Mapping.

Then Mr. Taylor brings out the tactics. The first one is the hardest. Devilishly hard. If you seek to elicit information you must quash your ego and LISTEN. You can’t play the “Oh, my story is even better” game that we are all so good at. To gain trust and rapport, we must listen 80% and only talk 20%.

We humans are full of needs and desires. These are levers that a good listener can use to move the conversation into the funnel leading to that nugget of intel desired. For example, after talking with someone for just a few seconds, one should be able to figure out that this person desires recognition. A small bit of flattery can unleash a flood of information.

Some of the levers Taylor discusses are:

•    The Desire to Correct a Mistake.
•    The Desire to Teach.
•    The Desire for Recognition.
•    The Desire to Gossip.
•    Curiosity.
•    Underestimating your listener’s Needs.

Then he matches tactics to use with these needs.

•    Flattery
•    False Statements
•    Secret Knowledge
•    A Provocative Statement
•    Naïveté
•    Repeat-a-word (Active Listening)
•    The Instinct to Complain.

While this is a simplistic book talking about a topic that agents spend years studying and practicing, it is useful to a business person who may not realize how much information they give out during each day. With better situational awareness, a research engineer, accountant, or executive can tell if they are being manipulated to divulge company confidential information.

For a salesman or CEO, this primer can give the basic understanding to set a goal for conversations, map out the paths, and manage the flow of information to their advantage.

This book is well worth the $7.95 price for the Kindle version on

D. Alan Johnson

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