By Chris Simmons
When you suspect someone of wrongdoing, you can use a simple psychological ploy to force them to reveal what they’re hiding. Known as the similar scenario or the allusion power play, this technique uses a query to expose an individual’s unconscious attitudes and thoughts. According to Dr. David Lieberman, a noted expert in the field of human behavior, this protocol is the verbal equivalent of the inkblot test (also known as the Rorschach test).
In using this tactic, do not refer to the suspected misconduct, but tell a story about a third party engaged in identical behavior. Since the individual is not being accused, he/she will not be defensive. However, their response will clearly demonstrate whether they are being truthful.
To demonstrate, let’s use a frequent area of concern – a cheating spouse/significant other. Rather than accusing your loved one of having an affair, tell him/her that you think a colleague is having an affair. Do it rather casually when you are face-to-face so you can watch for body language “tells.” Deliver your story quickly to maximize the element of surprise. Do not “buildup” the event as this could give your partner time to prepare or make them apprehensive.
For example, while clearing the table after dinner, you could turn to your significant other and say: “Hey Gorgeous, guess what happened at work? I think my boss is having an affair with that new 20-something he just hired.” Now watch the reaction. An innocent person will immediately ask questions and willingly discuss the topic with you. Conversely, a guilty party will be uncomfortable and seek to change the subject as a means of putting distance between themselves and the errant behavior.
I recall a time we used the allusion power play in Afghanistan. We had an intelligence source we began to suspect was working for the Taliban, or possibly al-Qaeda. Had we accused him, he would have denied it (and if he was a double agent, he would have employed countermeasures to mask his exploits). Instead, we told him we appeared to have a problem with Taliban penetration of our spy network and needed his help in creating more safeguards to protect our operations and personnel. Rather than reacting negatively and asking if he was a suspect, our source was proud we respected him so much that we had sought his assistance.
He created a list of detailed recommendations. Although he had displayed the “innocence response,” we were concerned that his espionage service might have played a role in his reaction. As a result, still not absolutely convinced of his loyalty, we thanked him for his efforts and told him we needed more options in our array of tactics, techniques, and procedures. He happily developed a diverse range of additional alternatives. Still not satisfied, we pressed him to develop even more sophisticated options. He complied – quite successfully. Now absolutely convinced of his loyalty, we “promoted” him and shortly thereafter (based on hard evidence) jailed several of his colleagues for having attempted to frame him.
I have never known the allusion ploy to fail, even when it appeared highly likely that an individual was guilty, as in the above scenario. It is, in essence, an instant psychological test. By not accusing an individual, you side-step their natural defensive behavior. Then, by telling a story or asking for their help in stopping the suspected behavior, you create an artificial trap – one that’s smart enough only to catch the guilty ones.