Salvador Dali, Rudolf Nureyev, John Paul Getty. All almost impossible to get interviews which Lynn Barber managed to famously nail, long-form, to forge a fearsome reputation.
I heard her recount many remarkable career highlights, during which she revealed how she opened up people to start talking and provide real insight.
Her tactic could be especially pertinent to us when faced with a particular prospect whom we feel guarded. Unwilling to fully engage. Reluctant to feel themselves revealing anything to us, viewed with mistrust as bitter enemy or mere unwelcome outsider.
“One of the things I try to do is establish that I’ve done a lot of homework and I really do know my stuff”.
The framework summed up as;
‘[I know your life story], the bit I don’t understand is why you _____…’
Which she considers as “trying to get them onside to help me understand”.
Her guiding principle being that, “if someone’s done homework and taken an intelligent interest…” you’re more likely to get somewhere worthwhile.
Then gave an example;
‘I find your character very interesting but the bit I don’t understand is why you have to boast the whole time…’
Which she found “actually quite fruitful because often they say, ‘I suppose it’s because I’m a bit insecure really’, and you’re off”, then fresh insights tend to flow.
Two factors strike me with this.
First, the homework part. I so rarely see a salesperson undertake thorough preparation for a sales call it’s super scary.
I thought the days of winging it belonged in a pre-connected age. But no. Sadly I continue to witness calls that rely on the seller hoping that simply asking the broadest of standard opener gets the prospect gushing precious intel their way. Spoiler alert; they do not.
Ever the more astonishing given today’s exponential access to information increase.
There is a balance. No-one should spend time buried in their screen getting lost in “research”. But knowing what brings a requisite prior depth to proceedings is part of the skill for which we earn higher rewards.
Sometimes, you must search beyond the confines of a keyboard.
Then there’s the language itself. “…the bit I don’t understand is…”
After demonstrating you know something worthwhile from your effort beforehand, this is the phrasing proven to unlock.
Can you slot it into your delve dive?