Is Your Loved One Predisposed to Cheat?
The Art of Elicitation (Part 2)
Everybody wants to know if their loved one is predisposed to cheat. If you ask your significant other if they would cheat on you, rarely will you hear, “Yeah, I don’t have any problem with cheating on you.” They may be thinking that, but they would surely not say it out loud. When you ask people direct questions, they tend to become defensive and ask themselves: “Why does this person want to know?”; “How is this person going to use the information?”; or “Why is this person prying into my private life?” Elicitation techniques can encourage people to disclose sensitive information without asking direct questions and, in most cases, they are not aware that they are revealing closely held information.
Internal/External Foci is an elicitation technique used to find out what people really think about sensitive topics. When you ask people direct questions about sensitive topics, such as cheating, they go to social norms to obtain their answer. Social norms are the external standards that define acceptable beliefs and behaviors. People are expected to adhere to these standards or they risk being seen as deviant. If you directly ask your loved one what he or she think about cheating, they will go to social norms to seek the answer. Thieir answer will only reflect social expectations not what they really think.
To find out what your loved one really thinks, talk about sensitive topic from a third-person perspective. Instead of asking the direct question, “What do you think about cheating?,” talk about cheating from a third-party perspective. For example, “My friend Vickie caught her husband cheating. What do you think about that?” When a person is confronted with a third-party situation, they tend to look inside themselves to find the answer and tell you what they really think. The answer you want to hear is, “Cheating is wrong. I would never do that to you” However, be prepared for answers such as: “Everybody cheats nowadays; “If a wife can’t take care of her husband’s needs, what else is a man to do?”; “If my wife treated me the same way she treated him, I’d cheat on her too”; and “It’s no wonder. They haven’t been getting along lately.” These answers tend to reflect what a person really thinks about cheating. The person in this case tends to think that cheating is acceptable under certain conditions and is, therefore, is predisposed to cheat when certain conditions are met. These responses are not conclusive, but they do provide insights into your loved one’s predisposition to cheat.
A student told me the following story: She was in a serious relationship with a young man and contemplating marriage. She struggled with a weight problem and exercised regularly to keep in shape. However, she knew that she would eventually gain weight as she aged or if she were to become pregnant. She wanted to know how her boyfriend would feel if she gained weight. One evening, they were watching the TV show Biggest Looser. Half way through the show, her boyfriend blurted out, “If my wife ever got like that, I’d kick her to the curb.” She was taken aback. Her boyfriend was commenting on a third-party situation, so he revealed his true feelings. She tested him by asking the direct question, “If I ever became overweight, would you kick me to the curb?” Predictably, he replied, “No, honey, I’d love you no matter how much you weighed.” By using the Internal/External Foci elicitation technique, the student found out how her boyfriend would really feel if she were to gain weight. She eventually broke up with her boyfriend and found a more compatible mate.
The Internal/External elicitation technique also works on your kids. For instance, you want to know if your kids are using drugs. If you ask them the direct question, “Are you using drugs?,” they will go to social norms and answer, “No, of course not, drugs are bad.” The best way to find out how your kids feel about drugs is to ask them from a third-party perspective. For example, “My friend’s son got caught in school with marijuana. What’s your take on that?” You want to hear, “Marijuana is bad and I would never use it.” However, be prepared for, “That’s stupid. He should have never brought it to school”; “It’s only marijuana”; or “No big deal. I know lots of kids who smoke marijuana.” These responses indicate that your kid may be using marijuana or is predisposed to experimentation. Again, these responses are not conclusive, but they do provide insights into your kids predisposition to use marijuana. For additional elicitation techniques to discover if your kids are lying or get them to reveal information about sensitive topics, refer to Fibs to Facts: A Parental Guide to Effective Communication.
The best part about using the Internal/External Foci elicitation technique is that your target does not know that they are revealing sensitive information. Elicitation is an art not a science. It is not 100 percent effective, but it does encourage people to reveal sensitive information that they would not otherwise disclose.