Gathering Personal Information Discreetly – Asking the Right Questions

2. Ask the Right Questions


Asking the right questions is key to gathering information discreetly. This means asking open-ended questions that encourage discussion, rather than closed-off questions that only elicit yes or no answers. It also means determining what kind of information you are looking for and what tone or setting will best foster an environment conducive to getting those answers. Being overly formal with an employee, for example, may make them feel uncomfortable and inhibit their willingness to provide honest answers.

It is important to consider the order in which you ask your questions as well. Research suggests that people are more likely to reveal sensitive information when the questions are asked in decreasing order of intrusiveness. This relates to the idea of coziness; once you’ve done your work to make them comfortable, the harder questions will be easier to ask.

You should be clear in your communications about the purpose of the question, and be up front about anonymity if necessary. If you are conducting a survey, for instance, be sure to let your respondents know this ahead of time. Finally, it’s important to listen carefully and talk as little as possible. This will give the impression that you are truly interested in their answer, and that you’re a good listener, which can be very reassuring. It is also important to recognize when they’re making you uncomfortable and to back off if they signal this.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

When people feel comfortable and open up, they’re more likely to answer your questions. That is why it’s important not to be afraid of asking tough or sensitive questions, even if it feels awkward at first. In fact, studies have found that people are more willing to reveal sensitive information when questions are asked in a decreasing order of intrusiveness. This is because the last question, by comparison, feels less probing. Leslie and her coauthors suggest that this approach can make a difference when it comes to getting answers to your questions.