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CIA-Self Help BooK - How to win friends and interrogate people

An “elicitation”, they call it. The word “interrogation” has such nasty connotations, doesn’t it? Especially when used in conjunction with the letters C, I and A. So three alumni of the US intelligence agency aim to rebrand the inquisitorial process with a new book called Get the Truth: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Persuade Anyone to Tell All.

Philip Houston, Michael Floyd and Susan Carnicero believe the methods that have helped them to winkle out traitors in various unspecified sandy locations could help all of us in our business and general lives. And, perhaps, as parents.

Here are five handy learnings:

1) An elicitation is a monologue, not a dialogue

Surprising, this, but true. The interrog- sorry, elicitator is trying to create an environment in which the vic- sorry, interviewee will want to give up the truth. That means implying that you already know what they’ve done, you completely understand the pressures that led to their error of judgment, and if they take you into their confidence, this whole silly misunderstanding can be fixed.

2) Cultivate short-term thinking

You want the interviewee concentrating on trying to please you, in the here and now. The moment he or she starts thinking of the likely long-term consequences – professionally, judicially and physically – of confessing that he or she has been ratting out the agency to a foreign power, he or she will tend to clam up.

3) Do no harm

The last thing your interviewee wants to feel is that you’re sitting in judgment like some big old judgey-judgey sourpuss: “The simple fact is that no good can come from being judgmental of a person in an interrogation situation – in fact, it can severely harm the process.”

4) Good cop/bad cop

... is an invention of Hollywood movies. It doesn’t work. The whole point is to make them feel you’re on their side.

5) “Enhanced interrogation”

… may be, like, totally legitimate – the authors are for guessable reasons loudly agnostic on the matter – but it doesn’t work so well. Getting the Truth “isn’t about instilling fear – it’s about minimising or eliminating it”. Plus: hello, Iraq? Also: it’s unsuitable in a white-collar environment.