Elicitation Techniques Followup from SCIP’s Webinar

elicitation techniques

Elicitation Techniques #1: What are the ethical implications of Human Elicitation? Are there any techniques/framework (aka Scharff) more widely accepted?

I believe the ethical implications for elicitation are similar to standard interviewing. With elicitation, one plans the interview with the end in mind and works his way back using conversational elicitation techniques to get there. The idea is to be efficient in data collection. We all know conversations often don’t go the way we plan since we are talking to an individual. So we need to be flexible in our approach.

Elicitation Techniques: Purposefully Erroneous Statement

There are a few elicitation techniques that are more controversial. For example, throwing out a Purposefully Erroneous Statement to get the other person to share. I tend to use this technique more often when I suspect the person I’m talking to isn’t the expert I thought they were for the topic I’m researching. I will say something I know is obviously wrong that an expert would know is wrong. If they don’t correct me, then I assume they are not an expert or that they don’t want to share.

Elicitation Techniques: Naïve Mentality

Another elicitation technique people might be uncomfortable with is Naïve Mentality, especially if you’re faking it. I have no problem with this either. Being a woman, many I speak with are all too happy to inform and correct me. But naïve doesn’t mean stupid. You need to read up on the topic you’re researching and learn some of the vocabulary, so people will want to share with you. However, you aren’t the expert the other person is, and that’s where the Naïve Mentality comes in. It’s highly effective. You just need to figure out your comfort level with using it, as well as assessing if this will be an effective technique to use with the person you’re talking with.

Elicitation Techniques: Flattery

Flattery is another one that some people think is questionable ethically. If you don’t mean it, don’t express it. People can usually see right through your fake attempt. It can backfire, as they might feel insulted. On the other hand, there is almost always some genuine reason you can flatter someone, and it is often a good conversation opener.

Elicitation Techniques: Chats

In the digital world, chats can be a great resource for data you’re seeking, as can read product reviews, for example. You can remain anonymous in chats, and often enough you can query the person who gave product reviews and learn more. You can easily enough remain anonymous there too. But beware, the other person could be feeding you misinformation.

Elicitation Techniques: Games People Play

The fake phone call is one of the games people play in elicitation. You can either excuse yourself or hold a conversation that you hope will engage a person within hearing range once you hang up. Beware of this tactic. I had a person do this to me when I was gone to the restroom. When I came back, he was on his phone (except her wasn’t really). I could tell it was a fake phone call since he was quiet and so was the other end. I took the cue, left, and never reached out to him again.


Elicitation Techniques #2: Do’s and Don’ts


Be respectful to the other person and likeable in demeanor as you converse even if you’re using the provocative elicitation technique. Put your ego aside, and listen closely to the other person.

Prepare for every conversation with the end in mind: that is what you’re looking for, and work your way back using elicitation techniques to get the conversation to flow towards your objective.

Put yourself in the other person’s position before you even start the conversation. Think how they’ll be motivated to share.

Learn how you come across in conversation. This helps you use the elicitation techniques that work to your benefit, those which come naturally.

If possible, research the other person on the Internet and social media to learn more about him or her, such as hobbies, interests, schools attended, etc. Hopefully, you’ll find some material to warm up the conversation. You might find a mutual interest or something else you share in common, for example.

Learn about the various ways people are comfortable sharing, depending on their sharing persona and their preference for communication (DISC).

Follow the elicitation hourglass that John Nolan shared in his book, Confidential, on p. 28. (below)

elicitation techniques

Elicitation Techniques: Don’ts

Don’t go into an elicitation conversation without some preparation as described above unless you’re experienced at reading people’s communication style almost instantly. This comes with a lot of practice: when elicitation techniques become part of your DNA.

Don’t insult people by being such a fake using elicitation techniques that the person you’re talking with can tell, and feels used and disrespected. You want people to feel good about their conversation with you, not used.

Don’t use the same approach and elicitation techniques with every person. You need to observe how they respond and converse accordingly. Remember, while we box people into personality categories, each person you speak with is a unique individual. Not everyone will respond to the same elicitation techniques. A shy person might not respond well to a provocative statement, but she might respond to simple flattery, gossip or complaining.


Elicitation Techniques, #3: Difference between elicitation techniques over the phone, Zoom and Face2Face? Any new elicitation techniques or adaptation for telepresence?

Elicitation Techniques: Phone and Zoom Audio Only

Elicitation techniques can be used similarly when you see or don’t see someone. When you use elicitation techniques over the phone or a Zoom call where video is disabled, you need to be listening carefully for subtle changes in the following: tone of voice, loudness/softness of speech, breathing, hesitation (or not), speed of speech and wordiness. I find elicitation techniques work well over the phone or Zoom with no video, but I have been doing this for over 30 years.

When I’m doing Win/Loss interviews or research projects, I would rather not have the video on, so I can take notes, which somehow helps me to think of other things I’d like to learn. If I have the video on, the person at the other end expects me to look at her, and I can only take minimal notes. If that’s the case, I will record the call, so I don’t have to take many notes. I find looking at the other person to be distracting, and can be too much information as I take in their visual persona in addition to their words. I also don’t want them to be sizing me up based on my appearance. I don’t want to be remembered in that way.

I know this is probably counter to what you’ve probably read about how much information a person imparts with his body.  When I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Talking to Strangers, I could relate to how judges made more mistakes in court when they met the person’s family, etc. Their emotions took over, and they might let someone off the hook or lower their prison time, when actually the person had done something awful or be more apt to give a heavier sentence based on a person’s slovenly appearance or race with no family present. This is an example of too much information, and can bring out our biases even more. Just think about how you picture someone that you’ve been emailing or talking to for years, and then you meet them in person. They almost always look different than you had expected. The visual can be distracting for me when I’m collecting CI data.

Elicitation Techniques: Zoom with Video

On a Zoom call, you see the facial expressions, which give you more of an idea of the person’s sincerity, certainly in what they’re saying or if they’re lying, for example. You can see this more quickly than you might hear it without visual assistance. I also like that I can see when the person has finished talking or is hesitating, so I know to give them extra time. I can also see their facial nervous habits or when they mess around with their hair, which can give me additional clues along with their voice.

Elicitation Techniques: Face2Face

A Zoom video call doesn’t hold a candle to Face2Face elicitation, like at a trade show. I find when I’m sitting across from someone or wandering around an exhibit booth, I can take in their persona, almost before they open their mouth.  I can watch their full body movement as we converse. For example, if the facial expression says one thing, and the words contradict it, I believe the facial expressions. I also like to watch their extremities since their movement is involuntary. Likewise I like to watch for movement such as changing their standing or seated position, their nervous foot tap, and hand movements.

I have to be very prepared when Face2Face since I don’t have any notes to refer to for elicitation ideas. It’s more work to keep the conversation flowing, but it can also be rewarding, since it’s fun to meet people and exchange ideas in conversation. I come armed with lots of elicitation techniques and pick the ones I want to use based on the other person’s responses and style with the end result always in mind.

If your organization wants to improve its conversation, interviewing and elicitation techniques, we offer virtual elicitation training (in-person post-COVID).  Check out my SCIP Elicitation Techniques AMA recording  (Ask me anything) on SCIP’s website. (members only)

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