Can I Ask You A Quick Question: Lessons From The FBI

There was a great book written a couple of years ago from Robin Dreeke – Head of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Behavioral Analysis Program, where he outlined the top techniques for building quick rapport with anyone.

In the consumer insights industry where our main responsibility is to ask questions, it’s fascinating to see how the top 10 techniques he outlines are very much aligned to The Interpreters approach to market research.

Below are the guidelines he recommends and how we apply these to the client work we do.

  • Establish artificial time constraints, for example – I’m on my way out but before I left I wanted to ask you…”

For us, this is about not only managing expectations in the setting – whether this be a focus group room or as a participant is about to start an online survey – it’s about managing the relationship.  As an industry, we’re only as good as the people we ask the questions of and without them, gut feel and insight won’t deliver true consumer insight.

  • Make Sure Your Body Language is In Sync

This obviously favours qualitative methodologies but lends itself to ethnographic research where the time we spend with the participant is in their own environment, making them more comfortable and giving us the opportunity to observe as well as interrogate.

  • Speak Slowly

From a moderator perspective, this is essential as not only do you need to build empathy, we know that fast talkers bring connotations of nervously and a lack of confidence.  Smile as well!

  • Ask For Help

This comes back to Psychology 101 – humans are conditioned to be more open when a request is made – it’s in our nature and goes back to adhering to a fair exchange when interviewing consumers.  We’re equals.

  • Suspend Your Ego

This is quite simple – we want to understand their story and not ours.

  • Validate Others

Listening is the easiest way to do this but remembering that each opinion is valid and while what we hear or what we see in the data might not be representative of what we think, it is representative of the pockets of the community that we’re looking to understand.  This is also why we love when clients come on the customer journey with us – getting them out of their offices and into the lives of their customers.

  • Ask: How? When? Why?

Open ended questions.  Yes and no answers give numbers but if you don’t have the drivers or the reasons why, what value do they have?  Try having a conversation with someone where you only ask open ended questions – it’s a challenge.

  • Quid Pro Quo

This is what Robin recommended for this technique: In my experiences, there are really only two types of situations where I have utilized quid pro quo. The first and more common of the instances is when you attempt to converse with someone who is either very introverted, guarded, or both. The second instance is when the person you are conversing with suddenly becomes very aware about how much they have been speaking, and they suddenly feel awkward. In both instances, giving a little information about you will help alleviate some of the issues.

  • Give A Gift

Again, this goes back to the fair exchange principle – if we value the consumer we’re interviewing – whether this is on an accompanied shop or completing a survey – their time is valuable and we need to recognise this.

  • Managing Your Own Expectations

For us, this comes back to the objectives of the research.  If these are known and the questions are built around them, and the above techniques, expectations will be met.


Any questions anyone?

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