I have been pondering the use of elicitation skills in competitive intelligence collection. I have been using these techniques for many years, but not quite in the military intelligence way, which seems like using the other person in a more negative way. The techniques take advantage of human tendencies to complain, gossip, correct and inform, which certainly works. However, I like to capture the human desire to be happy.
While my research assignment is to get information that clients can use to make the decision at hand, I have a relationship goal as well. By the end of the telephone call, my goal is to make the other person feel good about themselves. This was inspired by Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
A great way to make people feel good about themselves is for you to have an attitude of optimism, joy, and enthusiasm while you converse with the other person. Enthusiasm is infectious, and people like to share with you because you are making them feel happy. There are three ways I get myself in this zone:
1. Overall, I don’t take myself too seriously, so laughter comes easily in conversation. Work is a serious, less fun environment for many that I talk to. A little levity is often appreciated, but only if you sense that the other person is open to it. In my experience, most Americans are.
2. I put a smile on my face just as I am dialing to remind myself that happy is a good way to be. There is something about putting a smile on my face that puts me in a happy place. When I first make that connection with the person I am interviewing, they can feel my smile.
3. Before I dial, I get myself grounded and focused, by taking deep breathes. I want to forget about me, and to just concentrate on the person who I will be connecting with, even if this is a cold call. I want to get myself on their channel, sort of like sitting in their chair in my own mind. This also helps me be prepared for however the interview might go, since they seldom quite go as planned.
Being grounded is the one technique that has improved my success in collection more than any other. I can spend all the time in the world getting my value proposition written out and etched in my brain. But if I am not confident and grounded, the person at the other end can sense it right away, and won’t feel like connecting or sharing with me. When I am grounded and confident they will share, since I am in their zone, and the words just flow.
These practices also have another benefit: they help me get to the other person more readily, since I am more absorbed in how they are, and readily forget about myself while in conversation. My challenge is to remember to cover all the material that the client has hired me to collect, since I will often get lost in conversation as I let the other person control the flow of sharing, according to how they are comfortable.