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Ari: Now I am speaking with Jenny Radcliffe who among other things is the first person I
have encountered who is referred to or could be referred to as a people hacker. So
Jenny, thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
Jenny: Hi, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Ari: So first of all, let’s talk about what you do kind of in general for people.
Jenny: Okay, well I do a couple of things. I am a negotiator and I do all different types of
negotiation. Adding to that, I am into psychology, nonverbal communications but also
verbal skills and all just to get people from one position to a different position
depending on what that is. That could be a corporate negotiation, it could be a crisis
negotiation but also those skills have an application insecurity and so we use them to
help people reveal some intelligence and the type of things to give us gaps in a
Ari: Okay, I find this thing just personally incredibly fascinating. How does one get into that
line of work? What you given strong background in psychology?
Jenny: I had a normal career as it were and I had always been interested in… I was always
interested in doors and locks and keys; whether they be in someone’s head or whether
it be a real door with a lock and a key. And I was also interested in getting through them
or around them or whatever because they were there. But no, I had a normal career. I
was in a supply chain in procurement for big American firms like GE and Rockwell and
then I was a consultant in the same thing and a trainer. And I did just a bunch of training
for a decade on all of these types of things. And it’s just that in the meantime I studied
verbal communication skills and nonverbal communications and psychology and I
studied them on my own but also with a growing community of people who had similar
And because of the negotiation skills that I had, I ended up working with some security
guys and going over scripts that they used for crisis negotiations; I mean, I am not a
ninja I did not do that myself but I have advised them on how to do it and all to improve
what they say in those situations and also what to look for to recognize hostile intent
and those type of things.
And then in the end I just ended up working with them and whilst they were doing
physical penetration tests of facilities, I will be trying to get people to talk to me and to
tell me things, which is an easy thing for me to do. And then a few years ago I realized it
had a name, it was called the social engineering and a guy called Chris Hadnagy in the
states had written a book on it so that side of it was actually… I didn’t realize that this
was a job, it was just something I had always done. So yeah, normal career and then not
so normal I guess.
Ari: Okay, so it must be, I can imagine, it’s’ probably very exciting to be able to pull
information out of people if they don’t necessarily want to give you and get them to do
things or they don’t think that they want to do necessarily. How sort of fundamentally
do crisis negotiations differ from business negotiations or actually as a parent, I am
curious how it differs from maybe negotiating with your kids.
Jenny: Oh my God kids are the best negotiators in the world. I mean, kids have no filter. There
is no rules that apply. As we grow we get more experienced and we become more
conscious of our role in society, we start the sort of protect what we would call the face,
the idea of face which is an idea that is sort of more Eastern cultures like China, Japan in
which it is a much more sort of pronounced idea than in the states or the UK.
But kids aren’t really bothered about that, they aren’t worried about looking silly or
being persistent so it makes them very good negotiators. And when they focus on
something, they stay focused on the goal, the objective, it never changes. That makes
kids really good negotiators. Now in terms of the difference between sort of a crisis
negotiation or a very high-stakes negotiation versus a corporate one, it’s usually
obviously a crisis negotiation there is more at stake than just money. There is more at
stake than someone being embarrassed or wrong and so it differs I guess in that
Ari: So it is interesting for me because I went to the Wharton school in the University of
Pennsylvania and I took the negotiation class and one of the big things was that if you
didn’t… In each individual like exercise, if you did not come to an agreement of some
sort then you automatically got an F for that particular assignment. And I was just of the
mindset that I don’t really care about grades so much, I just really wanted to learn what
they wanted to learn. So in every negotiation that I had, I was willing to walk away but I
feel like that’s not enough in real life.
Jenny: Well, the thing is if you can walk away and resort to something… If you can’t reach is
something that day, even if all you agree is still move onto something else because
something things are very complicated, they take a lot of time. Political negotiations you
may agree on only one small thing and that may be to meet again and to keep talking. If
you can’t agree on those things, you have to resort to what they call a BATNA, which is
the best alternative that you have. Now if you can walk away and you have a halfway
decent BATANA then you tend to be in quite a strong position.
But one of the key skills to find out where the power lies in negotiations is to work out
what you would do as in one party, what you would do if you can’t agree? What you
personally can do and if you can’t agree on this today, if you walk away today, what
have you got? What’s the best situation that you have? But also, what’s the worst
situation that you could have? But the thing that people don’t always do is then you
have to kind of estimate that from the other side, you have to make informed
assumptions and what that does a lot of times is just redress the balance of power often
when you look at where people could go if they disagree or they walk away, that gives
you a better idea of who is usually holding the most power in that situation and then
you can work from a better standpoint so that is what that would say on that one.
Ari: Okay. One thing I had written down that there really wanted to ask you about as it
relates to that, and this is going to be obscure format of my listeners, are you familiar
with the big show Golden Balls?
Jenny: Oh yes!
Ari: Okay so for the Americans listening who may never have heard of this, it is a very
fascinating show. But basically, there is an amount of money and there is two people
and you have a choice. You can either split or steal and if you both decide to split, you
split and if you both decide to steal, nobody gets anything and if one person decides to
split and the other decides to steal, the person who steals gets everything and you’re
basically negotiating with that person. So that’s a very controlled situation I feel like
lots… And it brings out the worst in people in some cases, those kind of negotiations.
Jenny: You know what though, on that show, that’s for considerable money isn’t it? It’s for a
Jenny: I have been to lots of workshops on negotiations, advanced negotiation skills and
sometimes I do the exercise and there is no prize money, there is no prize at all and
people still take the opportunity to go in there and lie and cheat and just be down and
dirty and I will tell you partly what it is.
Most people who know about negotiations have heard about the theory of win-win,
win-win, win lose, and obviously it sounds as if win-win is the most optimal outcome;
everybody gets something, we should go for win-win. But there is a psychological
problem with the whole win-win and this is a problem. That is the language of the sports
field, it is the language of the courtroom and often you don’t feel like you have won
unless you see the other party lose. Like you want to see a bit of pain and we are very
competitive and this goes across all cultures, I talk to people from all over and there is
just something in us that says, “This is a competitive situation and I’m going to go for it.”
And that’s really a problem right there, it is people try anything to get through. It’s really
even if I have given classes for a day or so on this, this isn’t the right situation, you look
at objective driven bargaining and just for the best outcome you can find”, there is
something in us that sort of denies us that a little bit. It’s very funny to watch sometimes
the think people will come up with when there is no prize, it’s just ego.
Ari: That makes me actually think of arguing between spouses because there really isn’t a
prize in the end and one person is usually going to feel bad and the other person is
going to feel may be better for a minute but then they will probably feel bad too right?
Jenny: Right. One of the things that Cialdini finds out, Robert Cialdini in his book; Influence, he
said If people commit to something, if you commit to something especially in public, if
you say this is how you feel, this is the stand that you are taking. It is very, very unlikely
that you are going to go back on that position. And then there is a cognitive bias which I
think it’s called the international commitment bias which says that the more time and
effort, let alone money, but to the more time and effort and energy that you put into an
opinion and you spend defending it, the more unlikely you are to admit that you are
wrong because you’ve already invested all that sort of energy into something. It’s very
difficult then for us to go back and admit, “Oh, actually you might be right.” And it’s a
little bit of a blind spot I guess in all of us.
Ari: Yeah because then your brain is basically going to say to yourself, “Well, you spent all
that time so you must be right.”
Jenny: Yeah. And we all think that we are cleverer and smarter and funnier and better looking
than everyone else. These are just ways our brains are kind of wired sometimes. It
almost sounds depressing all of a sudden.
Ari: Okay well let’s switch a little bit then. Let’s talk about people hacking. I love the term
basically. So what does people hacking really entail?
Jenny: People hacking is really about… I do quite a bit of these interviews in the UK and there
was a partner, she was a journalist and she was like, “Jenny, people hacking, you can
hack someone’s brain.” And the truth is, nobody really can do that but if you have this…
If you’ve got really good nonverbal communication skills, if you can look at the emotions
that come up on people’s faces which is something that can be trained; if you can learn
to really watch people acutely, we don’t really observe as well as we should observe and
I think it is Sherlock Holmes who said, “You see but you don’t observe.”
Jenny: You have to learn to really watch people, look at the way they dress, look at the way
they sit, look at the things that they hold and they carry with them, look at their tattoos.
If you start to really look at people in that way and then learn some psychology, learn
the people that are motivated towards and away from things, learn the people. If you
know the basics of the behavior that we all have and you can look at those things. When
you really learn to do all of that and then to speak really clearly and say sentences that
people have sort of unraveling, it becomes as if you are a people hacker because
suddenly it’s quite easy or it’s easier than it will be without those skills to sort of predict
and manipulate people’s behavior.
Now, that doesn’t sound a very nice thing to do but I am on the side of the good guys.
So for me, I would do it to show that it could be done and then through training, we try
and organize our people against what’s happening to them or what could happen by
people who also got those skills but also have malicious intent.
Ari: Are there things that even really well-trained people, like just nobody can hide this
particular thing? What I am thinking of is recently I heard of this guy speak who is the
head of security for a casino and he was saying, people, they practice their face or
express with their hands about the feet never lie. You have people like shaking their foot
or going from the side to side. Are there things that you see that just nobody can hide?
Jenny: You know what the problem is? We can all control to a certain degree, our facial
expressions and our body language. To a certain degree we can control it but not for a
long time and what happens is, it’s a very… If you are controlling your feet and your
hands and your face and being really careful not to give anything away, you will
probably knockout some of your fine motor skills a little bit and become a little bit stiffer
and that in itself will give away that something is happening that wasn’t natural. Some
people are more expressive than others and some people are much more difficult to
read in some cultures, are more difficult to read.
A lot of Asian faces; Asian people just through their culture and but also to do with the
anatomy of the face, tend to be a little bit stiller than Westerners in muscle movements
in the face. But we work across the voice as well and across the words people say, the
vocal pitch, the verbalizations, just years of experience of watching people and it can be
very difficult to consistently conceal what is going on cognitively and emotionally
because those are the signals that come from the oldest part of the brain, deep, deep
inside the brain that really are there to keep you well, they are survival skills. And given
that that’s the case, sooner or later you slip.
Some people are just naturally good at controlling them but I have never seen anyone
who overtime, and certainly under the right amount of pressure, wouldn’t start to leak
some clues about what was truly happening cognitively.
Ari: You must be very patient.
Jenny: God no, I am the least patient person in the universe! But in work it is fascinating
because when you are watching someone that carefully, like I said I am fascinating with
the idea of a lock on the key and you can watch someone that carefully and you will see
something, some little thing in the room, the lighting in the room or you will see just
something in their face light up and you can connect and you can say, “Ah, that was it,
that was your key.” You were locked and there was this is a change and something
changed and it’s that change that’s observed. And if I was questioning them are talking
to them, it’s that but I push on. But it’s a subtle thing, you can’t go in too carefully really.
Ari: This may not be a question that you can really answer the way I am going to pose it but
if you are interviewing somebody for instance, and I don’t mean this like a criminal or
somebody in a really bad situation but is there like… If you could ask one question that
would give you an enormous amount of information or maybe through somebody of
their game a little bit, do you have something in mind that you could think of?
Jenny: Well yes. I am laughing because I do remember a situation which I kind of paraphrase a
little bit but I was asked by an organization to give an opinion on someone and I was
interviewing them and I was undecided as to what this person really was. I could see
there was something not right and they were lying to me all the time but that couldn’t
quite put my finger on it. And the questions to ask are really difficult to lie about and
reveal the person are questions about feelings. It’s very difficult to lie and mimic body
language and facial expressions and voice about feelings; so the one questions to ask
are the question closer to ask to get someone to really open up is about feelings.
So “How did you feel about that situation?” Or this particular situation now, I sensed
that the person had a problem with hierarchy and with authority, they hated authority
and I said, “So who is your boss?” And, “So do you like him?” “Yeah, he’s all right.” “Tell
me a little bit more about him.” And it’s questions and techniques; knowing different
questions to ask and certain questions that will open someone up and there are certain
questions that will close someone down and just to say to someone, “What else?” Is
sometimes just enough to keep them going and talking.
Ari: Okay. So then that makes total sense especially if you are dealing with people who
might be somewhat psychopathic.
Jenny: Exactly, you want to get people off script. You get people off script because then what
they say to you is more stream of consciousness and within words it is... The truth of
how people really feel is within the words. The nonverbals are great and I love them and
it’s my field and I have loved it forever but if people can talk unscripted within that
language is everything you need to know and if you have some film of them as well and
you are watching them as well, it’s very rich in terms of data.
Ari: And what are some of the common “tells” that you see with people? Shaking hands or
scrunching the nose or something? What are the...for the untrained person.
Jenny: Okay, well the first thing you need to know is that you can’t conclude; so you can’t see
someone scratch the nose and say, “Ah, that’s a psychopath.” What you’re doing is
you’re collecting data and you are linking it to the context because someone could like
scratching their eyes but they might just have itching context. It’s Occam’s razor, the
most obvious explanation in the absence of other data is probably the right one. But the
other thing to remember is everyone is an individual. So sometimes people, some
people sit with their arms folded. Some people just like to say that we and yet people
often think that means they are defensive.
But what I would say is forget about all the kind of come on myths about body language,
about eye contact and those types of things because there is very little research to
support things like eye contact or folding the arms and those types of things. But what
you do look for is a change in their normal behavior; so one of the things to do is to look
for a baseline for somebody. So is this person normally quite animated? Do they sit
quite close to people? Do they talk a lot? And then you are looking for something to
change in the normal behavior.
So you get a baseline and then you are looking for a switch from baseline into
something different and it’s in that change, that change will be in response to
something and then what I would do is I would use some questioning to find out what
that was. But we have to be very careful not to conclude. There are a few bloggers and
certainly people on Twitter that are supposedly body language experts and they
comment on cases in the news and they are commenting right now Oscar Pistorius,
there is some commentary on Michael Jackson and things like that. And the problem
that you have is you could influence juries or police, you can certainly influence the
press. If you don’t have a ground truth, that’s very dangerous. So you’ve got to
approach it that scientifically and say this is an individual and their behavior can mean a
number of things. I don’t know if that answered your question but you have to be very
Ari: No, that does absolutely does answer the question. So do you ever have trouble of
turning this skill of yours off like when you are with your friends or dating?
Jenny: Oh, well the thing is, once you learn it, you can’t unlearn it.
Jenny: Although you can have different… I found anyways, I can have different levels of focus.
So if I was working, I focus very particularly and meditate a lot before I go into a job and
I also try to still my mind and I have ways of closing off distractions. But then generally
just normally, I see it all the time, I can see all sorts of things about all sorts of people all
the time and a lot of it you don’t want to know so you just try and ignore it a little bit.
And it’s funny because people say, “Did you see that?!” When they know what I do, “Did
you see that guy? Did you see what you did just then?” And very often the answer is
“No” because I just cannot watch everyone to the level that I am able to all the time or I
would just overload my brain completely. So I try and sort of close a talk by not
watching, by reading or something.
Ari: I know that doesn’t make sense. What you must have used this skill in personal
relationships at some point.
Jenny: Oh God, with the children, as I said there is kind of a blind spot really because it’s
difficult to read them because they claim you really well and it’s a challenge for them.
But yeah, friends and family, you can see it, there is times you don’t want to see it.
There is times that it is funny and there is times that it isn’t. My little boy was it a few
years ago and I could see in the doctor’s faces and the nurses faces that it was more
serious than they were telling me…
Ari: O gosh!
Jenny: And he and he’s okay, he’s fine, he’s fine. But after the fact, they asked if I was medically
trained because they couldn’t work out how I knew it wasn’t this and which was the
best option when they gave it to me flat and I could see which one they wanted me to
say but they couldn’t recommend, they can’t recommend in certain situations in the UK.
And sometimes it comes off like that and you sort of wish you didn’t know because
ignorance would be nicer and sometimes little things like asking my husband, “Does my
bum look big in this dress?” And he just goes like… He just says, “Well, yes!” Because
what’s the point in lying really? He’s in worse trouble if he lies.
Ari: That’s pretty good! Okay so does that lead to less fights or more fights?
Jenny: I don’t know, I don’t know. About the same I would imagine over all.
Ari: Well because then you have to take some responsibility in the situation because you are
so aware that somebody else might not pick up on that stuff.
Jenny: Well it kind of just feels a bit like that sometimes. And I kind of get into situations with
my business partners and things where they wonder why I didn’t sort of arguing
something more ferociously or be more tough on somebody and I think it’s just when
you have been observing people to this level for so long, you have to kind of chill out a
little bit about things because otherwise you would just be constantly analyzing and
arguing and you have to… And this is one of the things I say, we have a bunch of training
coming online soon and I do a bunch of training in the UK. But I always say these
techniques are really powerful techniques and you really got to use them wisely. You’ve
got to use them carefully and not manipulatively.
I think if you do use it manipulatively, it does get back to you. I think people eventually
are on to that and so they don’t perhaps know why but they know they can’t trust you.
So there is a responsibility to use it wisely and as I say, not to conclude, not to give
misleading statements about people and because you will be believed basically and
sometimes if you don’t have crouches you shouldn’t make that statement I guess.
Ari: Sure. So the last question I would like to ask on this, the podcast and actually I have
gotten a couple of really interesting life lessons out of what you have just talked about
but what are some of your top three personal tips for being more effective? It could be
for many things you learned and done but the top three things you recommend for
people to be more effective.
Jenny: You see, you are speaking to somebody who is obsessed with language, effective how?
But I tell you, I am really busy. Big family, big job, loads on and I have to be organized to
get on with things and I suppose that’s my definition of effective, it’s getting things
Jenny: And I guess the first thing, I have an office I work and my office has come I can get
online but I have to log on and it looks me out if I am not using it after a couple of
minutes, I have to log back in and I don’t have a landline, I just have the mobile so the
time I get the most done is when I get up really early, I just throw on some jeans and a
T-shirt and I go to that office, I close the door, I put the coffee on and I don’t go online, I
don’t pick up the phone, I just get it done. I just sit and I write and I get stuff done.
So the first thing I think is a little bit of isolation, sort of a focus and just getting rid of the
distractions. So I have a place where I go which is a place that I sort of associate with
productivity and I have a little routine when that happens and I think that sends all kinds
of signals that you are going to work real hard now.
I think the second thing, and I am sure I have even read that you guys have this, but if I
really want to… If I may push for time, I need to accomplish a lot in a short period of
time. I make it a very rough calendar, I am very old-fashioned, I do tend to write things
down and I sort of plot every day this is what I’m going to be doing that day and I
plucked that in the morning and afternoon and I write everything down that needs to
happen and then I stick to it quite closely.
And the third thing to be productive is occasionally to… I occasionally stop altogether
and sometimes I actually have a nap, which is strange or I might walk or I might sleep. I
meditate on something for 10 minutes and I beat myself up with am wasting time doing
it but I just have to reboot and then I can do an 18 hour/20 day, that comes occasionally
when I just fall asleep. I would be working really hard, the brain just fries and I just
asleep and I have slept at so many uncomfortable chairs and desks in hotel rooms and
it’s just because I guess my head needs a break. I am sure there is nothing new in any of
that for you.
Ari: Well no, those are really good. I like the isolation one actually, especially makes sense
for somebody who sees more than other people see in everybody else. So I think those
are wonderful. So Jenny, thank you so much. We’re going to have links to all of your site
and everything in the show notes but where is the best for people to find out more
Jenny: When the website is constantly being updated but if you go to www.JennyRatcliffe.com,
you will see some news and some blogs and some things there. We are adding to it all
the time because things are real busy over here. There’s going to be some training stuff
and bits of bugs online sort of before the end of the year. So I would be on there.
Ari: With thank you, and it was really, really interesting going here so thank you so much.
Jenny: Thanks for having me.