The Power of Elicitation

Spy Skill For the office - part 1

As you already know, the work place is filled with cheats, liars and power mongers, leaving the battlefield open for some nasty stuff. These games can be used to your advantage.

Here is how you can gain information at work.

In this article we will show you HOW you can collect good intel overtly without spying on your coworkers. 

Who has good intelligence in the workplace?

Human Resources know a lot about people's movements, project based new hires and lay offs. It's harder to collect information from them since confidentiality is an integral part of their mandate. 

Finance departments also have a mandate of confidentiality but most accountants have their desks piled up with information. All you have to do is read them. 

The I.T. staffers. They also have a habit of cluttering their desk with useful information. If you're not asking about anything sensitive like information security or crypto, they'll be pleased to help.

The engineering department is working on the next big thing, all day, each and every day. That section is usually filled with trade secrets, new patent development and research. This could either be easy pickings in a small company, or like showing up at Fort Knox asking to use the loo in a big company. 

Who else? Any management tier should have worthwhile information.  Usually they know how the game is played and will hold on to the information. Steve Jobs was well aware of that and used it well. He'd make sure no one gets the big picture easily by segregating software development from casing design, for example. Compartmentalizing is one of the best way to keep the shop in good order and avoid leakage. 

Here is one major rule spies and con men knows and you should never forget:

"People don't care about you; they only care about themselves"

Regular conversation setting, nothing is out of place. 

Regular conversation setting, nothing is out of place. 

This fact is the reason why elicitation techniques works so well. Elicitation is a fancy word for extracting information from someone. Elicitation is sneaky, easy and efficient. 

Experts at elicitation will conduct simple conversations that appear totally innocuous to their targets given the social context or professional environment.

Humans have a natural desire to shine. Here is the list provided by the FBI:

  • A desire to be polite and helpful;
  • A desire to appear well informed, especially about our profession;
  • A desire to feel appreciated;
  • A tendency to show off
  • A tendency to gossip
  • A tendency to correct others
  • A tendency to believe others are honest;
  • A tendency to answer truthfully when asked an “honest” question
  • A desire to convert someone to our opinion

If you want to test this theory try this: 

Purposely change the name of someone or alter a fact that affect his or her ego negatively. Change something people are usually proud of or define themselves by, like the person’s job title. You'll be corrected in no time. It usually doesn't work to change the fact positively. "Here is Peter. He's the director of .." Unless they're very humble, most people won't correct aggrandizing mistakes by saying "no I’m not director I’m…”. 


For the following techniques to work you need to have a reason to be there and make sure your conversation is in context. Being in context is an important element of success for elicitation to work. When going after information, again, bear in mind that people don't care about you, they only care about themselves. 

The funnel approach

Start with broad, open ended topics. Open ended topics allow you to manipulate the context better than would be specific, close ended topics. The purpose being that you want people to talk. Ask an open ended question. This will enable the conversation to flow while the closed-ended one will most likely cut it short. 

You have loads of small talk options out there to kick off the conversation in. Starting with a broad statement, then narrow it down to a specific matter such as oil, energy, economy or a government decision that recently made the news. Then angle towards the important stuff.

Leading questions

They're very powerful, so powerful that lawyers are well aware of leading questions and will scream OBJECTION! if they hear one during the questioning of a witness. 

Leading is when you ask a closed ended question which is loaded with presumptions, like asking a suspected robber “where did you go after you robbed the store?”

To make it less detectable you can pad it before and after. “Such 'n such told me that he thinks this project is going to be a huge hit. Did you work on that project while you were with that company? That would be something to be proud of.”


Pretending to be ignorant on a specific subject matter can lead the target to talk about it. Remember people don't care about you, they care about themselves and this makes this tool a powerful asset.  Obviously, this won’t work if you are introduced as an expert on the topic, but if you show a veneer of ignorance it might lead them to open up. 

It works very well simply because it exploits so many natural human tendencies. The target wants to be polite, appear knowledgeable in his/her profession, answer questions honestly and maybe show off a little.

It allows you to use seemingly innocent questions to arrive at detailed explanations about the target's work 


We obviously don’t have to explain what flattery is. A person's ego is a very personal and powerful tool you can use. However, you might not know how to use it appropriately. You have to be a good listener and an opportunist. Flattery can be spotted from miles away when used point blank. That's why it's a good technique to hide small doses of flattery behind some padding so that it will appear innocuous. 

Remember: flattery is not flirting. It’s to appeal to one's ego. Don’t use compliments that could be construed of as in bad taste.


This is useful to obtain more concise information. The point is to identify the size of what you are after. Quantifiable data such as market share, prices etc....


Listening is an art and may be the most important part of intel gathering. Mute your inner voice a bit and pay attention to what others are saying. You’ll then be given insights into another world. People like to complain, boast, gossip and the intel you seek might often come right out for the taking. All you have to do is to shut up and pay attention to what is said. You’ll find plenty of opportunities to use the conversation techniques we have just covered. 

On last thing

Be natural and don’t get greedy. Pushing it too far may get you in trouble as you could be revealing you intentions. Elicitation works well. It’s very hard to detect, it’s non-threatening and, if used diligently, makes it fairly easy to deflect any suspicion if uncovered.

This extract is from an up-coming publication by J.-F. Bouchard:
 Cheat, Lie, Steal & Win - No one cares for the losers anyway

ISBN-13: 978-0-9920562-0-9