What the CIA Can Teach You About Networking

One of my clients, Sarah Carson, one of the first women Harvard MBA’s and a private investigator (she breaks all the boundaries!), told me this fascinating tidbit about a tip she heard.

Sarah was listening to a CIA agent lecture about  “passive interviewing.”  He said (and he should know) that if you ask too many questions, people feel interrogated, and they tend to clam up.  The best way to get the most information out of people was NOT to ask questions, but to volunteer a small piece of information about yourself.  Passive interviewing is a way of getting information from people without them realizing that information is being sought from them.  Undercover agents do this when they lead their targets into thinking that they are someone other than who they really are.  You start volunteering information about yourself to encourage the other person to start sharing too.

That would turn a networking meetings on its head, wouldn’t it?  The man asked everyone in the audiece to turn to the person next to them, and get as much infornation as possible about their partner without asking a single question.  He gave them minutes to do it.

I liked this idea so much because it takes away the tiresome stream of questions that we often fling at people in order to find out more about them, their businses, if they’ll be a good fit with us, etc.  It’s a softer and more influential way of gathering information, and in addition, it creates a more powerful relationship from the get-go.

The next time you meet someone new, try volunteering small pieces of information without asking any questions, and see how much information the person you’re talking to will share with you.  Probably more than if you asked a direct question.

I’ll report back when I’ve tried this out.  I know it comes from the CIA, but if it’s useful, what the heck!

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