At first glance, you might assume that this book was written solely for the suspicious — for those who assume that their loved ones inherently have something to hide. But that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, there are a variety of innocent occasions when we might need to get information out of someone else. For example, if you work in Human Resources, you might want to feel certain that the candidate you’re interviewing is being honest about their work experience. Similarly, if you’re a parent, you might want to know that your child is being honest about where they’re going and who they will be with. In each of these moments, it’s common to think, “I hope I’m asking the right questions” or “How do I get them to be honest with me??” And that’s why everyone needs these top tips for getting information. The authors can’t guarantee that this advice will help you get the right answers every time, but you can at least be armed with the appropriate tricks of the trade. (And in most cases, those tools will enable you to find the truth!) So, over the course of this summary, we’re going to explore the world of interrogation and learn the life hacks you need to know.
Chapter 1: The 5 W’s and an H
Did you ever hear that old saying about the strategy reporters use to gather information? As a kid, I often heard it referred to as “the 5 W’s and an H.’ The phrase served a quick mnemonic device to help you remember the most important questions to ask as a reporter, with those questions being: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. Well, it might come as a surprise, but interrogators often rely on those questions too! In fact, they frequently employ these questions to avoid the “yes or no” shut-down answers that people often use when they don’t want to fully answer your questions. To consider how these questions work in practice, let’s take a look at a couple of different examples.
For the first example, let’s say that you asked your teenage son, “Did you go to your girlfriend’s house after school?” Maybe you’re not necessarily trying to interrogate him; you’d just like to know more about his day! But in response to that question, he simply says, “Yeah.” Technically, he’s answered your question, but you still don’t have the information you want. So, now he’s had the opportunity to shut you down and you’re at a loss to figure out how to communicate with him. What can you do? Well, if you employ the 5 W’s and an H, the conversation might look a little more like this: Break: You: Where did you go after school? Break: Your son: I went to Rachel’s house. Break: You: Oh, that’s great, why did you decide to do that today?Break: Your son: I just wanted to hang out with her. We haven’t gotten to see each other much lately. Break: You: Oh, how come? Break: Your son: She got a part-time job, so she’s been really busy with that. Break: You: Oh, well that’s great for her! I’m glad you got to see her today at least! What did you guys do? Break: Your son: We just talked and watched a movie.
As you can see from this example, this exchange is vastly different! Not only do you avoid the dreaded “yes or no” answers, you also get a lot of detail about your son’s day. As a result, you get to feel like you’re part of his life and glean details that you can use to keep the conversation going. But none of that would have happened if you simply asked the question, “Did you go to your girlfriend’s house today?” So, wherever possible, remember to avoid questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no,” as well as questions that have a confrontational tone. Instead, ask questions like those above that will invite the other person to respond in detail!
Chapter 2: Questions to Avoid
Now that we’ve looked at the types of questions you should ask, let’s take a look at the questions that you shouldn’t ask. According to the authors, there are four unique types of “bad questions” and we’re going to take a close look at each of them. First up on our list of offenders is the “leading question.” Leading questions are the death of conversations for a couple of reasons. For starters, if you ask a leading question that can also be answered with “yes” or “no,” 9 times out of 10, people will simply go with the “yes” or “no” answer because it’s the easiest option. Even if they don’t agree with what you said, they may go along with it just to save themselves from a longer or more intimate conversation.
But on the rare occasions when people do respond to your leading questions, they can be dangerous for another reason, whether you mean it in a harmful way or not. For example, if your question invites someone else to distrust themselves or their opinions, this can sow unnecessary seeds of doubt. This can occur whether you’re asking something as harmless as “But you hate ice cream, don’t you?” or “You didn’t really seethat woman get assaulted, did you?” Because you’re asserting a viewpoint and attributing it to them, some people may internalize this to an unhealthy degree. Perhaps, for example, they were on the verge of changing their minds about something or trying something new.
But if they hear their own opinion restated by you in the form of a leading question, that question takes on a new level of value and plausibility. Perhaps they were certain that they did indeed witness a sexual assault. But if you imply that that’s impossible and insinuate that, deep down, they must know it’s impossible too, many people will change their tune and say, “You’re right, I couldn’t have seen that.” That’s why leading questions aren’t allowed in most ethical interrogations, and they shouldn’t be allowed in your conversations either!
Vague questions are next on the list because they’re also a repeat offender. Vague questions are exactly what they sound like: questions that are too open-ended and undefined for any real clarity to be achieved through conversation. A good example of a vague question might be, “How do you feel about war?” Because there have been multitudinous wars throughout history, some of which have wreaked horrific destruction, and some of which have saved the world, that question is overwhelmingly vague.
Next up are negative questions. Negative questions are not questions that are negative in tone or questions that don’t sound very friendly. Instead, negative questions are those which are confusing in their organization because they rely heavily on the use of double negatives. For example, a negative question might say something like, “So, am I not correct in assuming that you have never not said you don’t support America?” Would you instantly understand the meaning of that question? Or would you need to run it over in your mind a few times first, carefully unpacking the confusing verbiage? The latter is true for pretty much everybody, so you can see why negative questions are problematic.
And last but not least, we have compound questions. Just as a compound sentence is a sentence with more than one subject or predicate, a compound question is a question which has more than one part. For example, if you were angry at your teenage son for sneaking out of the house and stealing money from your wallet, you might ask a compound question like, “Where did you go and how much money did you take?” Although they might not sound too confusing to read, compound questions can feel very confusing if they’re being fired at you in an accusatory manner. As a result, most people will struggle to keep up with both parts of the question and are likely to only answer the one part they can remember. For example, even if he intended to behonest and answer both of your questions, your son might get overwhelmed and only tell you the truth about where he went, completely forgetting the part about the money. So, as you can imagine, from the perspective of both the asker and the recipient, compound questions are a bad idea!
Chapter 3: The Best Question You Can Ask
Knowing what to ask and what to avoid can prove invaluable. But wouldn’t it be great if you could identify a singular “best question to ask?” Well, according to the authors, you can! As is the case with all the best practices we’ve examined so far, this question isn’t 100% guaranteed to yield results every time, but we can say with certainty that when it does work, it’s extremely helpful. And that question is simply, “What else?” “What else” is not a leading question, but it is a probing question in that it invites the recipient to go beyond the surface answer and flesh out the information they’re providing. This, of course, is especially beneficial if you’re communicating about a problem.
Whether you’re dealing with a friend’s emotional crisis or a customer service issue, “What else?” can help you flesh out the layers of the problem. It can also help you to ascertain the most information in the least amount of time! So, although complex issues might be so frustrating and complicated that people struggle to explain the entire problem in a clear concise manner. This can often lead to helpless outbursts of emotion or result in someone shutting down and saying something like, “Never mind, it doesn’t matter.” But when you ask, “What else?” you remove the pressure to explain the whole issue at once. Instead, you invite the recipient of the question to explain what they can, little by little, until they can safely say, “Nothing else, that’s it.” So, no matter what you’re dealing with, remember to ask, “What else?”
Chapter 4: What’s Your Type?
No, I don’t mean the type of person you’re attracted to. Instead, in the context of this question, it’s important to consider the type of person you’re talking to. Because, as you can probably imagine, the recipient’s personality type, perspective, and worldview will influence how they answer your questions. That’s why it’s vitally important that, wherever possible, you try to understand the other person’s point of view. This will not only make you a more empathetic listener, it will help you get the information you want.
For example, consider the difference between a sulky teenager and an outraged, entitled middle-aged woman who feels wronged by a customer service representative. If you were to ask your teenage son questions like, “How are you feeling today?”, “What’s wrong?” and, “Who are you talking to?” you might feel as though he would rather have all of his teeth pulled without anaesthetic than have a conversation with you. Bycontrast, if you were to ask the dissatisfied customer a simple question like, “What’s wrong?” she would be only too happy to tell you! In fact, she would probably list every grievance she could think of. So, what’s the difference between these two? It’s a combination of differing motivations and perspectives.
Your son, for example, is probably motivated by a desire for privacy. Whether that’s because he’s a reserved person by nature or because he doesn’t want you to know the truth about his activities, his motivation is to keep his cards close to his chest. In his perspective, his relationship with you might have an ‘us/them’ element because, as a parent, you have a certain element of control over his life. As a result, he understands that if he tells you what he’s really up to, he might not get to do what he wants. If he keeps it a secret, however, he’s likely to get his own way. By contrast, the customer is motivated by a desire for vindication. Because she believes herself to be someone of importance, she feels she’s entitled to a certain standard of quality and respect. So, if those standards aren’t met, she will be motivated to air those grievances to someone who can validate her anger and achieve different results. Understanding these core differences in your recipient’s perspective and motivation can therefore help you ask more effective questions.
Understanding personality types can also be helpful. You already know, for example, that some people are naturally chatty and talkative; they might describe themselves as an “open book” and freely disclose information. By contrast, however, others are more reserved; even if they have nothing to hide, they may be reluctant to divulge personal information to someone they don’t know well. These personality differences mean that all interrogations cannot be equal. Instead, it’s important that you start by assessing the other person’s personality type and tailoring your questions accordingly.
Chapter 5: Final Summary
At some point or another, we’re all going to need information from someone else. Knowing how to find out anything from anyone at any time can help! Drawing on the wisdom they’ve acquired through their decades of interrogation experience, the authors advise relying on the “5 W’s and an H” method for most of your questions. So, remember to employ questions that incorporate “Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” “Why,” and “How” to avoid “yes or no” answers and get more information. You should also seek to avoid the four types of bad questions and ask, “What else?” whenever possible.