In recent weeks, I have been sharing some information about social engineering and elicitation. I introduced the idea that you might be a target of business intelligence collectors and social engineers. Business Intelligence is a $300 billion industry. Of course, it is not necessarily an industry you want to be a part of. This is particularly true if you are on the losing end.
What can we do to avoid becoming an unwitting participant in business intelligence? That is the $300 billion question. This is our second installment in providing some answers to that question. We will share some ways to avoid falling victim to business intelligence collectors. We will focus on one of their favorite techniques: elicitation.
Last time, we mentioned one key technique collectors use to exploit unsuspecting human targets. This technique is called elicitation. What is elicitation? In his book, Confidential, elicitation expert John Nolan provides a good working definition for elicitation. He calls it “that process which avoids direct questions and employs a conversational style to help reduce concerns and suspicions–both during the contact and in the days and weeks to follow–in the interest of maximizing the flow of information.” Business intelligence collectors disguise elicitation as benign conversations.
Does elicitation work? To answer this question, I could point you to hundreds of former students of mine and my colleagues. They will tell you unreservedly, “yes, it works quite well.” After only a few hours of training, I take my students out on a practical exercise. These students actually elicit personal information from unsuspecting targets. The success rate is nearly 100%. Just think how effective a collector with more training and practice can become. Elicitation is a credible threat.
The First Tip, Part 1
At the end of the last article, I provided the first tip in counter-elicitation. That tip was the saying I add to the end of all my articles: Be swift to hear and slow to speak. If we take a moment to consider this little piece of wisdom, we will quickly see why it is so appropriate for countering elicitation. First of all, consider this. If elicitors are to collect information from you, you must be speaking. If we are slow to speak, we speak less. That means there is less opportunity to reveal something we should not reveal.
Being slow to speak provides another counter-elicitation advantage. As we slow down the speaking process, we allow for more time to engage the thinking process. That is the last thing elicitors what you to do. They want you to speak with little thought. They will take steps designed to encourage you to disengage the thought process. And, they want you to talk, not think. The truth is that most of us are all too willing to oblige. Sir Joshua Reynolds, eighteenth-century painter and first president of the Royal Academy, once commented, “There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.” This is particularly true when we are relaxed and talking with those whom we like. We’ll look closer at this aspect of elicitation later.
So, any time there is a threat of being a target for elicitation, we would be wise to be slow to speak. This idea begs another question. If we are going to be slow to speak when an elicitation target, shouldn’t we practice being slow to speak at other times? It would seem to me that the answer to this question is “yes.” Practice being slow to speak. This idea is actually foundational to the entire Intelligent Communication approach. I recommend being slow to speak at all times.
The First Tip, Part 2
Okay, we have established we should be slow to speak. This helps us avoid becoming a victim of business intelligence collectors’ elicitation. We might ask, what should be doing when we are being slow to speak? What beneficial activity could take this place? We find the answer in the first phase of our tip: “be swift to hear.” We need to listen. The problem is most people do not listen well. Improving our listening skills is vital to counter-elicitation. I have written much about the importance of listening.
I would like to briefly look at the idea of listening from two perspectives. The first of these perspectives is best illustrated by something known as Courtois’ Rule. This rule states, “If people listened to themselves more often, they would talk a lot less.” We should listen to ourselves. Take some time to replay some of the conversations you have had when you may have said something you should not have said. Seriously, think about this for awhile. Be honest with yourself. For each of these, you remember, there may be several others that you do not remember. This little exercise helps use “be swift to hear” to remind us that we should be “slow to speak.”
Let’s consider being swift to hear from another perspective. When we focus on listening, we may hear (and see) indicators of an elicitation attempt. This is a good example of “active listening.” Doing this, we turn our hearing into an active defense measure. If we suspect someone of trying to elicit from us, we can take countermeasures.
Like the previous tip, this kind of listening is something we should practice every day. We may not always be listening to identify elicitation attempts. We may, however, hear a great deal that will help us better understand those with whom we communicate. Listening is the first step in the Smart Talk thinking and feeling process. This is another integral part of Intelligent Communication.
So we have covered the first step in effectively countering elicitation. This tip alone will do much to help you avoid becoming a victim of business intelligence collection attempts. We will continue looking at ways to counter elicitation in future articles. If you would like to be sure not to miss them, sign up for our blog and newsletter using the form below. We will send you all the blog articles twice each month.
Don’t be an easy target for elicitation. Instead, be swift to hear and slow to speak.