A Veteran Interrogator Says Listening is Key to Asking Good Questions

    Jim Pyle isn’t one to shy away from a confrontation and he knows just how to ask a question to get the information he needs.

    Book cover pyleIt’s a skill set that was particularly helpful in his career as a human-intelligence training instructor who has served the U.S. Army with his expertise at places such as the Defense Language Institute, the United States Army Intelligence Center and School and the Joint Intelligence of the Pentagon.

    His new book, Find out Anything from Anyone, Anytime: Secrets of Calculated Questioning From a Veteran Interrogator(Career Press, January 2014), is an eye-opening look at ways to make conversations go the way you want. Plye and co-author, Maryann Karinch, tell their readers how to reframe your questioning to discover more information while building long-term skills such as rapport-building, active listening, critical thinking and many other competitive advantages.

    The book comes from experience, Pyle said. There’s two things people won’t give you freely: information and money. You have to work hard for both of them.

    Getting information from someone whether as a soldier, a police officer or as a boss or co-worker is not a passive activity, Pyle said. Rather, it is hard work that requires active listening, good questions and lots of prep. After all, you were given two ears and only one mouth for a reason, Pyle notes.

    Here are some ways to make your questions and conversations more effective:

    1. Make your questions work. The point is to get the other person to talk freely and comfortably. Pyle said he does conversational questions, so people are comfortable and at ease with their responses. Don’t try to make it a classic interrogation. If you need an example, check out the work of Socrates. The philosopher was great at it, Pyle said.
    2. Really listen. Really. When you’re listening, don’t be thinking of the next question. You need to be still when someone is talking to you and concentrating on what they’re saying. And that is a tough skill set to master, Pyle admits. You want to listen to the answer, Pyle said. Take a moment. Don’t launch into another question right away.
    3. Take time. Things that make me crazy these days is watching TV. Everything is a three second camera shot. I don’t like that quick style, Pyle said. When asking questions, you don’t want to be a hurry. Take time to listen to the answer and ask your next questions from that. You might need to follow up or clarify.
    4. Listen audibly and visibly. As the listener, you need to watch for certain things listening for the information the person is sharing that’s the answer you’re waiting for in the conversation. But you’re also listening for leads that will tell you where you want the conversation to go next.
    5. Leave some room for them to talk. Don’t feel like you have to fill every silence. Offer an emotional pitch and see where the conversation goes next. Establish rapport. Everybody has hot buttons as to what they’re interested in talking about. Find those, and they’ll tell you more than what you want to know, Pyle said.