Dilbert creator and hypnotist Scott Adams tend to think of human beings as biological robots. As someone with a computer science background, I understand where he is coming from. A computer is at the simplest a series of switches that are turned off and on, which produces various results. I’ve recently been doing some work on a hobby that involves Proportional Integration Derivation (PID) controllers, to automate some tasks I had been doing manually. What makes a PID different from a simple controller, is that the PID will “learn” over time. For instance, if I need to maintain water at exactly 210f using a heating element, where the element is controlled by a PID, it will over time learn for how long it needs to turn the element on in order to maintain 210 degrees and not go over so that the liquid boils.
So, if we break down what the PID does, it gets a stimuli, in the case of our boiling water, a message from a temperature probe saying “The water is below 210 degrees“, this makes the probe turn on the heating element and keep it on until the temperature of the water is 210 degrees, the probe then sends a message “The water is now 212 degrees“, which means the PID kept the element on for too long, so the next time the probe sends “The water is below 210 degrees” it will adjust to avoid overshooting.
This is in many ways how humans learn as well, “stimuli – response – correction”. Most of manipulation is based on somehow influencing one or more of these mechanisms in order to get the desired response. Since this is a large topic, I’ve broken it down over several posts that I will be making in the near future. This first topic deals with the stimuli and response aspects of the model for the purpose of information gathering.
How to get information
The concept of elicitation is about frame control and it’s about creating a scenario where your target is likely to do what you want them to do. This can be bouncing her to a second location to pull of a mini-dates play, it can be convincing her to spill her deepest, darkest secrets, or it can be selling her that beat up Toyota that your boss has been pushing you to get rid of.
Information is the key to a good pretext. The reason for this is that when you create the frame, and seeks to draw the target into it, your chances increase dramatically with the quality of your frame. Your main stumbling block here is that in order to gain information, you need to engage with the target, but if you engage with the target, that will limit your pretext later on. This is where cold reading and archetype analysis comes into play, as it allows you to gleam information from the target by observation alone, rather than by interaction. A quick look on social media, provided that you can get access to it, will be a treasure trove for making quick and accurate heuristics that will further the power of your frame.
Once you are in contact with your target, utilizing the tools of elicitation will create the favorable impression that you are a great conversationalist, because you will allow the target to talk and merely ask questions. The irony being that usually a person can say talk about 10% of the total volume of words in a conversation and be perceived as a great conversationalist, because people love talking about themselves.
There are 5 principles that gives elicitation its power:
- Most people have the desire to be polite, especially to strangers.
- People want to appear intelligent and well-informed.
- Praise tends to make people divulge more information.
- Most people will not lie for the sake of lying.
- Most people respond kindly to people who appear to have their best interest at heart.
In order to be successful at elicitation, there are three major things to keep in mind. You need to appear natural. If you come off as unnatural or uncomfortable in the conversation, the target is likely to notice it and it will pull them out of the frame. You can become more natural in a conversation by being informed of what you will be talking to your target about. It helps to draw up a few ideas for the conversation and plan out the overall “path” you want the conversation to go down. The reason why being uncomfortable or unnatural kills conversation (and the frame you are trying to draw your target into) is very similar to the concept of suspension of disbelief in fiction.
For instance, when we watch Star Wars, many of us are aware that there would be no firing sounds in space. However, we willingly engage the movie within the frame of the natural laws adopted in that context. It becomes a deal with the creator of the work that as long as he doesn’t get too outlandish, we will buy into his story. However, if in middle of a lightsaber duel scene Harry Potter was to show up, it would break our deal with the author and thus we would no longer be within his frame.
The final principle is to not be greedy. The goal of elicitation is to get the target into your frame, get answers and information, yet if the target feels like the conversation is actually an interrogation, they are likely to become suspicious and apprehensive.
There are a few techniques that are very useful for elicitation and pretexting. Preloading is a technique that is often used in marketing, where you are told how to respond to information or ideas before you are presented with the information. When you watch a movie preview where they say “The funniest movie since ….” they are telling you how to respond to the movie you are about to watch. This was used by Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, in his “branding” of his opponents. By using a nickname like “Lyin‘” Ted or “Crooked” Hillary, he is causing his listeners to interpret any information that Cruz may have lied or Hillary engaging in crooked behavior as them engaging in this type of behavior. In essence you are preparing the soil to allow natural human bias to take action.
Preloading can take place over days, weeks or months, but take a clue from Mr. Trump, it only works properly if what you ask them for, matches the preloaded information.
There are a few more tools that aid in elicitation:
- Appealing to the ego – Stroking someone’s ego in a genuine and appropriate manner will endear you to them and they are more likely to let their guards down. Be mindful though, over-doing it makes people suspicious.
- Expressing a mutual interest – This is another tool to make people feel a connection with you. It also opens the door to letting them be the expert.
- Making a deliberate false statement – This is very counter-intuitive, but if done right to set up the target to “ego correct” you.
- Working obligation and reciprocity – By valunteering information about yourself, you are working with the two powerful force of obligation and reciprocity as your wingmen.
- Assuming knowledge – This works off the principle that if someone knows something, it is OK to discuss it with them. In essence, you are pretending that both yourself and your target are in a club that has access to the same information and therefore, it is OK for her to discuss that information with you. This is the gambit in play with some pick-up artists, when as an anti-cockblock maneuver will point out the “roles” of each woman in a group.
- Using the right questions – Leading questions, open ended questions, closed questions and assumptive questions.
The goal of pretexting in the service of elicitation is to create a psychological frame wherein your target(s) feel comfortable getting into your frame, and acting in accordance with the frame.
Summary and conclusions
The key to the techniques of pretexting and elicitation is information. This is obviously different depending on how much stalking you want to do/are able to do prior to the first interaction. If you are using this technique professionally, it would be more accepted to cyber-stalk the person who is interviewing you and the company, than to take a 10 minute bathroom break to cyber-stalk the hottie you are chatting up on Facebook.
This is why cold reading is a valuable technique to learn, to rapidly make conclusions about your target on the fly. The saying “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover” is perhaps accurate in many cases, but the cover of the book does let you make conclusions about how the author wants the book to be perceived and his or her priorities. Their body language within the situation, their tone of voice, and a range of other observable patterns will be there for you to take advantage of to improve your elicitation and pretexting.
We can break down the process into the following steps:
Step 1: Get enough information about the target prior to the interaction to form a pretext that work.
Step 2: Engage the target and utilize elicitation to gain more information to strengthen the frame.
Step 3: Utilize pretext to push the elicitation further.