Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 19, Issue 49;   December 4, 2019: Implicit Interrogation Tactics

Implicit Interrogation Tactics

by

When one person tries surreptitiously to extract information from another at work, an implicit interrogation is taking place. Here are seven tactics that people use to interrogate others without revealing what they're doing.
Benches at the beach

Two park benches at the beach. The setting for an implicit interrogation need not be an office or conference room. In some sense, the more unusual the setting, the less likely is the implicit interrogation to be recognized as such. This particular setting probably isn't the best, because it's so isolated. A setting with more people might be much better.

In the workplace, we use formal interrogations as components of investigations to determine whether or to what extent organizational policy has been violated. As we discussed last time, fairness is a goal of formal interrogations. The process is sanctioned by the organization and policies govern how they're conducted. For example, the person being interrogated knows that an interrogation is underway, and the organization might even provide assistance and advice to him or her. "Interview" might be a better term for the process.

But there's another form of workplace interrogation — one for which the term "interview" fits not at all well. I call it implicit interrogation because the person interrogated — whom I've been calling "Reese" (R for Responder) is rarely aware that an interrogation is underway. In implicit interrogations, the person seeking information — whom I've been calling "Alex" (A for Asker) — takes steps to conceal the interrogation, or failing that, to conceal the objective of the interrogation. When an implicit interrogation is well executed, Reese remains ignorant of what information Alex was seeking, and indeed, unaware that an implicit interrogation is happening.

In this The essence of implicit interrogation
is deceptive inquiry into what
a person knows or doesn't know
part of our exploration of implicit interrogation we describe seven examples of tactics and strategies the interrogator (Alex) can employ to obtain the desired information with a low probability of the respondent (Reese) recognizing that an interrogation has occurred. I'll also use the name Incident to denote the situation that is the subject of the Implicit Interrogation. By a coin flip, I determined that Alex is female and Reese male.

Choice of interrogator
Before the interrogation begins, those who seek the information must choose an interrogator. If Reese has a trusting relationship with someone among the people who want the information, then that trusted person will usually be the designated Alex. Otherwise, someone else Reese trusts will be recruited for the role of Alex.
If Reese notices that someone (Alex) with whom he ordinarily has little contact is suddenly interested in spending time together, and if Reese is aware that he knows something about the Incident, he would do well to approach with caution any conversations with Alex. Such a change in Alex's behavior could be an indicator that an implicit interrogation is underway.
Casual setting
To allay Reese's fears and to prevent him from suspecting that an interrogation is in process, Alex will choose a casual setting for their conversation — one that's familiar to Reese. The setting will be public, but it will be one in which they have "enterprise privacy" — no one from the organization is likely to be able to overhear their conversation. Examples: restaurants, cafes, or perhaps a walk outside on a nice day. Alex will adopt a casual demeanor, or she might even appear to be distracted by the scenery, the menu, or the food or drink.
Disclosing a "confidence"
By disclosing a confidence, Alex hopes to build Reese's trust in Alex. Such disclosure creates a pseudo-conspiracy between Alex and Reese. A naïve Reese will experience this conspiracy as power over Alex, because Reese would then be in a position to report to someone that Alex has disclosed the confidence. Confidences used in this way are rarely of any value. Although they might be secrets unknown to Reese, they're likely well known in the circles in which Alex travels.
Asking for advice
Alex can ask Reese for advice on a topic Reese regards as within his area of expertise. Alex might or might not actually need the requested advice — that isn't the point of the request. The point of the request is flattery. By flattering Reese, Alex hopes to further assuage any uneasiness on Reese's part.
Similarly, Alex can ask Reese to assess a situation or the performance of another person. Being asked for his views about a person or a matter not normally within his span of responsibility can induce in Reese a sense that his opinion matters, which can cause Reese to speculate that Alex respects his views and might be able to help advance Reese's career. Alex's purpose is to flatter Reese and distract him from the extraordinary nature of the interactions taking place in the context of the implicit interrogation.
Masking conversation and questions
At some point in the conversation, to elicit the information she seeks, Alex might need to ask Reese a direct question. To limit the probability that Reese might recognize that question, Alex can include it among other questions, conversation, and banter. For example, if Alex wants to know whether Don attended the afternoon session of the conference call, she might ask about Don only after asking about Cole and before asking about Ellie.
Making intentional misstatements
Maneuvering Reese into volunteering information is another technique for concealing that an implicit interrogation is taking place. One technique for doing this is to make an intentional misstatement, hoping that Reese will correct it. For example, to determine whether Don attended the afternoon session of the conference call, Alex might say, "I heard that Don was out at the client site yesterday and missed the conference call. How did it go without him?"
Changing the subject suddenly
Swift and sudden changes of subject can indicate an attempt to distract from whatever has just been said. Perhaps Alex felt that her previous statement was revealing, or perhaps Reese provided her with a piece of critical information, and she no longer needs to pursue the previous thread. Or perhaps Reese said or did something (or didn't say or didn't do something) that Alex interpreted as revealing that Reese might have grasped that an implicit interrogation is taking place. In any case, Alex probably wants to distract attention from the previous point.

Certainly there are dozens more of these ploys. Whether they work by building trust or by deception, the goal is the same: make Reese comfortable enough to tell what he knows without arousing his suspicions. Implicit interrogation is therefore at or beyond the bounds of ethical behavior. If you find yourself conducting such an exercise, reconsideration might be in order. First in this series  Go to top Top  

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenrDUDwWaUxOAJtKFRner@ChaclWPJpPZohNvtYLEJoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Devious Political Tactics:

Nemesis by Albrecht DurerSome Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: III
Skip-level interviews — dialogs between a subordinate and the subordinate's supervisor's supervisor — can be hazardous. Here's Part III of a little catalog of the hazards, emphasizing subordinate-initiated skip-level interviews.
Two varieties of "Stupid" buttonsPushing the "Stupid" Button
Some people know exactly how to lead others to feel ignorant or unintelligent. Here's a little catalog of tactics to watch for.
A pitcher plantBehavioral Indicators of Political Risk
Avoiding dangerous political interactions is easier if you know what to look for. Among the indicators of possible trouble are the behaviors of the people around you.
Santa Claus arrives at 57th and Broadway in New York in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day ParadeNarcissistic Behavior at Work: IV
Narcissistic behavior at work is more damaging than rudeness or egotism. It leads to faulty decisions that compromise organizational missions. In this part of the series we examine the effects of constant demands for attention and admiration.
A high-occupancy vehicle lane on Interstate 5 northbound near Shoreline, WashingtonNarcissistic Behavior at Work: V
When someone at work exhibits narcissistic behavior, others respond. Some respond by accommodating the behavior, and those accommodations can include special and favorable treatment of the person behaving narcissistically. That's one place where trouble can begin.

See also Devious Political Tactics and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

An onion, sliced and dicedComing December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
Winston Churchill in the Canadian Parliament, December 30, 1941And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenrDUDwWaUxOAJtKFRner@ChaclWPJpPZohNvtYLEJoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The
Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.