Read Get the Truth: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Persuade Anyone to Tell All Online
Authors: Philip Houston,Michael Floyd,Susan Carnicero
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
These words reinforce what we have discussed earlier about the power of liking, and the criticality of not being disliked. They also teach us about the tremendous impact of the principle of reciprocity: That which we do to others, or that which others perceive we have done to them, may well be done to us, good or bad.
A classic example of reciprocation for perceived bad treatment was demonstrated at the beginning of World War II. At the end of World War I the Allies used a railroad car as the venue for the signing of articles of surrender that were considered by the Germans to be extremely harsh and humiliating. More than two decades later, when the Nazis defeated the French, they had the same railroad car removed from a museum, and forced the French to sign articles of surrender in it. It was clear that their use of the railroad car was payback for what had occurred all those years earlier.
If Phil, Michael, or Susan ever approached their elicitation encounters with a heavy hand, the overbearing “bad cop” routine that’s so frequently portrayed in movies, those they questioned likely would have clammed up or responded to them in kind.
For many years, I have represented and advised law enforcement officers, typically in cases where there was an investigation surrounding the use of lethal force. I witnessed firsthand the impact of different questioning styles on my clients. Those investigators who came in loaded for bear would quickly earn my client’s distrust, and mine as well. Those who came in with a more relaxed, friendlier approach would quickly gain our respect and confidence, and often our trust.
I learned from one of my mentors a wonderful technique for setting the stage for a highly productive negotiation: Bring food—doughnuts, cookies, sandwiches, it really doesn’t matter. It’s easy and cheap, and it’s effective because it leverages two key principles of influence. The first is simply that people are more responsive to persuasion when they’re eating, perhaps because they associate eating with a pleasurable experience. The second is that you’re doing something nice for them. That not only makes you likable, psychologically it causes the person to feel indebted to you.
When I served as an honorary consul, my primary responsibilities were business-oriented and largely ceremonial in nature. My duties included introducing diplomats to government officials or business executives, and conducting introductions between businesses overseas and in the United States. One of the things that always intrigued me was how many of these, and other high-level meetings, took place over lunches or dinners, and that it was almost always the side seeking concessions or that had the most to gain from the encounter that would declare up front that it was hosting the meeting. Being liked, and creating that sense of indebtedness, were quite valuable in the high-stakes worlds of diplomacy and international business.
The very same principle applies in the case of the car dealership that offers a “free” breakfast when you come in for a test drive, the time-share facility that offers you “free” tickets to a theme park, or the survey company that sends you a dollar bill in the envelope with a survey it wants you to complete. The result in each case is the same: You’re likely to feel indebted, and a desire to reciprocate the kindness.
People often don’t expect the kindness you show them—in many cases, they fully expect the opposite behavior, which can make a kind gesture even more effective. Those on the other side in a court case, interrogation, or negotiation may well expect you to come on strong, with a take-no-prisoners approach. They’ll be disarmed by your kindness, and many will respond in kind. In any case, they’ll find it much more difficult to dislike you.
During a negotiation, I would always thank the other party for any concessions that were made. In depositions, I would express my appreciation for the person’s cooperation, and for his responses. I recall one deposition in particular that ended with the following exchange:
Thank you, sir, for coming here today, for accommodating my client’s schedule, and for providing such thorough answers. You have been very kind.
No problem. This was actually pretty easy, and, if I’m being honest, not what I expected. In fact, I thought you would be a real asshole.
Well, thank you again. And honestly, it takes people knowing me for several months before they realize that I am indeed a real asshole.
We laughed at that together—at that moment, we weren’t adversaries, we were just two people sharing a joke. Regardless of all of the legal proceedings, we were suddenly on the same side—the side of humor. We parted company as we had met, in a friendly fashion. The case settled a few weeks later.
On another occasion, I represented a woman who had been the victim of some of the most disturbing acts of domestic violence I had become aware of in handling more than 1,200 cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Over the years, this woman had been cut with knives and box cutters, had cigarettes stubbed out on her skin, and had been slammed against furniture, walls, and doors by her husband—all in front of their son. Before I met him, I hated him.
In a meeting with the husband, his lawyer, the prosecutor, and the arresting officer, we had two matters to discuss: his plea in the case of assault on a female; and the entry against him of a domestic violence protective order. I had seldom met such an arrogant, rude, and offensive man; as far as I was concerned, he was human detritus. Yet I came into the meeting with a box of doughnuts I had purchased outside the courthouse from a merchant whose proceeds, ironically, supported a shelter for victims of domestic violence.
Knowing that I was representing his wife, the husband expected me to hate him, and to behave angrily toward him. It took every ounce of self-restraint that I had (and I am not known for my self-restraint), but my demeanor was cordial and polite. The upshot of the conference was that the defendant agreed to plead guilty as charged, and consented to a protective order that included my client having residency in and possession of the family home, custody of their minor child, and child support. These are certainly all things that would have happened at trial, but my client was spared that ordeal. Was it all because of some doughnuts? Probably not. However, had I exhibited the anger and aggression I was truly feeling, rather than the kindness and respect I showed him, it is far less likely that the defendant would have agreed to anything at the meeting. The outcome for my client would have been a painful trial, and further anguish.
Don’t be concerned that your kindness, or speaking calmly, will be seen as a sign of weakness, or a lack of confidence. Just the opposite is the case—it demonstrates that you have the utmost confidence in your abilities, and that you don’t have to resort to aggression or bullying tactics to get your way.
A final bit of advice if you find yourself in a negotiation or sales situation, and you’re on the receiving end of unexpected kindness, “free” gifts, or generous hospitality. Take a step back and recognize it for what it might be. Ensure that any concession or offer you make is one you would have made anyway.
WALKING A MARINE THROUGH A MINEFIELD
When the investigators who initially interviewed Ralph used the word “molested” to characterize what they were accusing him of doing to Judy, they handicapped themselves by making it extremely difficult to get the truth from Ralph. The use of such a harsh term, one that carries a stigma with life-altering consequences, gave Ralph every incentive to do everything in his power to conceal the truth.
Ralph was very much aware that he had engaged in inappropriate sexual activity with a sixteen-year-old girl. Yet he very likely thought of himself as a good person—a United States Marine who had served his country, and who was now serving his community as a law enforcement officer. He also knew full well that good people don’t “molest” children. So he had a conflict in his mind that had to be reconciled before there was any chance of him revealing the truth.
Being labeled as someone who had “molested” Judy almost certainly caused Ralph to dislike his accusers, which decreased the chances of a confession even further. Beyond that, the use of the term made it clear to Ralph that the investigators were judging him, and that anyone who would judge him in that way could never understand what had happened in that truck. Their aim, as he saw it, was to end his career and ruin his life by throwing him in prison. Telling them the truth under those circumstances wasn’t an option.
It was only when Michael came in that a pathway to the truth was opened. No doubt, that pathway weaved through a minefield for this Marine, so it was up to Michael to keep Ralph’s mind off the potentially explosive nature of every step they took. With his easygoing style and low-key manner, Michael was able to engage Ralph and, more important, gain his trust. This all served to reduce the dissonance that Ralph was experiencing, and to get him to a place where he was ready to open up.
The questions Michael asked regarding what Ralph was feeling are instructive not only in an interrogation situation, but in a negotiation setting, as well, as we seek to ascertain what’s driving the other person’s position. Understanding what motivates someone in that position, and what he would most want or fear, can be an invaluable guide in creating options and making proposals that can lead to a resolution.
A key nuance of the interrogation was that although Michael downplayed the consequences that Ralph brought up, at no point did he say that Ralph might be let off the hook, or that there would be no negative outcome. By shifting Ralph’s thinking from the worst-case scenario to the positive nature of cooperation and admitting his wrongdoing, Michael was able to plant that mind virus, and leave it to Ralph to take it wherever he wanted to go.
When it was time for Michael to check his progress, he did so not by demanding that Ralph confess, but rather by strategically using a presumptive question: “Was it her idea?” Then, as Ralph opened up, there was no gloating, no judging, no criticizing on Michael’s part. He stayed on course and carefully guided Ralph the rest of the way through the minefield and into the hands of his superiors.
There’s a valuable lesson in Michael’s refusal to gloat or pat himself on the back when he got the truth from Ralph. William Ury’s counsel to heed Sun Tzu’s admonition to build a golden bridge for the other person to retreat across suggests an equally worthy piece of advice: Never burn that bridge by being overly proud of your accomplishments.
In a case I once handled as a mediator, both sides had tentatively agreed to a settlement—one that I felt was reasonable and good for all concerned. We were to come back the next morning to finalize the agreement and sign the settlement papers. Unfortunately, one of the individuals decided to throw a party that night to celebrate his “big win.” Word of the party got back to the other side, and the next morning, the deal was off. No matter how reasonable the terms of a settlement appear to be, no one wants to be branded as the loser. In the end, the side that had celebrated its “big win” came away with a far less attractive settlement.
NEGOTIATOR, INTERVIEWER, OR INTERROGATOR, YOU’RE PLAYING A ROLE
In December 2008, Clark County, Nevada, District Court Judge Jackie Glass sentenced O. J. Simpson to up to thirty-three years in prison, following his conviction on charges stemming from an attempted robbery in Las Vegas in September 2007. It was the maximum sentence Judge Glass could impose. Simpson won’t be eligible for parole until 2017.
This time, Simpson did not publicly assert that he was “absolutely, one hundred percent, not guilty,” as he did after being charged with the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Rather, after being confronted with recordings of the incident and other damning evidence, he maintained that he had been trying to recover sports memorabilia that belonged to him. One cannot help but wonder whether Simpson would have taken a similar tack had he been presented with the damaging evidence against him on the day after the murders. Instead of insisting that he had nothing to do with the murders, would he have felt compelled to admit his involvement, and have decided that his only course of action was to try to somehow justify it? We can only speculate.
As we have stated, it is not our intent to demean anyone who was involved in handling the Simpson murder case. Observers have faulted the prosecution for a variety of reasons, including its failure to present certain evidence during the trial. But the case can never be retried, so all of that is moot. For some, there is consolation in the fact that Simpson was found liable in a civil case, resulting in a judgment against him of over $33 million. That might have been some consolation to the Brown and Goldman families, but it no doubt did very little to lessen their grief.
Perhaps they felt some sense of consolation, as well, when Simpson was finally put behind bars following his sentencing in Nevada. The image of Simpson sitting, at long last, in a stark prison cell is one that many see as having come thirteen years later than it should have. In the hypothetical situation we presented, would the outcome of Michael’s interrogation of Simpson have been a one-way ticket for the jet-setting celebrity to a room with no view at Pelican Bay State Prison? I would submit that it very likely would have.
The hypothetical confession obtained by Michael is one that would stand up in any court in the United States, and, indeed, in most jurisdictions around the world. Simpson was read his Miranda rights, and was interviewed in a manner that was neither unethical nor coercive. Michael’s demeanor was calm, low-key, and nonconfrontational.
In the course of the interrogation, Michael convinced Simpson that he
him—that he could imagine how difficult it was for him to deal with the “bad Nicole” that had emerged since their divorce. Many might come away from reading what Michael said to Simpson during the hypothetical interrogation, and ask how he could possibly depict Nicole in such a negative light, and seemingly justify the brutal murders. It’s a question that warrants examination.