If you want to learn about someone (we will call him the target,) don’t waste your time asking that person anything about himself. You will never get the whole story. This person may guard information, not tell whole truths, be biased, or simply give you the run around. The two people who will give you the best information on your target is your target’s best friend and his worst enemy.There are a number of reasons for this, but, generally speaking, friends are less likely to remember what bits of information are “confidential” or if they are common knowledge. People are unlikely to keep someone else’s secrets as well as that person would. On top of that, they are less likely to be concerned about how you intend to use that information than your target would be. For this source of information, there are lower stakes in the conversation, which means they are less likely to lie or deceive, ultimately giving you a higher quality of intelligence.
On the opposite side of that spectrum, your target’s enemy will also have a great deal of information on your target. Think of a person that you don’t have much respect or appreciation for. You are likely to remember much of the gossip about that person, probably are aware of any work they have done so that you can sufficiently discredit it in front of your boss, and possibly go as far as researching that person to have a store of “ammunition” against them should you need it. Just like the best friend, this enemy is a great source of information on your intended target of collection. The question then becomes, how can you find these sources? This is where the domain of Proxemics comes into play.
Applying Edward Hall’s principle of proxemic zones to interpersonal relationships will let me identify these sources. In his book The Hidden Dimension, Hall identifies four separate zones of interpersonal relationships. These are the intimate zone, the personal zone, the social zone, and the public zone. However, for the purpose of finding your target’s friends and enemies, I am only going to focus on the intimate and personal zones.
In stereotypical western culture, the intimate zone is generally from 6 to 18 inches away from a person. This is culturally significant and can change from person to person, but can serve as an initial guideline for identifying the intimate zone. If you observe someone standing within the intimate zone of your target and you believe that both people are comfortable, (you can do this by analyzing the kinesic or body language indicators,) you can accurately conclude that these two people have a sound relationship, and it is likely that information flows freely between them. You could approach this source as an ally for your target. Being perceived as supportive of your target and not posing an obvious threat, you can likely pull a great deal of information from the encounter. Applying proxemics would let you identify what this specific source believes in and what he may know. This will allow you to tailor your approach for this specific type of source, creating the best possible outcome for you.
As you search for your target’s enemy, you can also apply proxemics, focusing on those contacts that your target keeps at the far end of the personal zone. Hall identified the personal zone as 18 to 48 inches away from a person. If a person is within this range, they have obvious contact with your target, but is kept further away than others in his circle. This may be because he hasn’t been welcomed in, (which could very well be reciprocal,) but through contact will still have information on your target. For this source, maybe you approach this person as an ally for them, not the target, offering up a piece of information that you have learned about the target in order to get the conversation started. From here, it is simply a matter of keeping your source on topic, without being too obvious, then let the collection begin.
Either approach could be effective in your efforts to collect as much information about your target as possible. That is the way the game needs to be played in order to have the upper hand. Using the domains of profiling, in this case proxemics, to identify information about a person or a situation allows you to identify who you want to talk to while simultaneously giving you information that lets you control the situation and elicit all that you can.
Have suggestions for other ways? Let us know.