Gathering Personal Information Discreetly

Gathering personal information discreetly is a skill that takes practice. Generally speaking, it’s important to be able to deflect prying questions by changing the topic of conversation.


Depending on how you collect PII, you may be in violation of an individual’s privacy rights. This could result in a lawsuit if the private information is later published.

1. Don’t Talk About It

In Tove Lo’s “Don’t Talk About It,” the narrator expresses a desire to avoid discussing their past experiences with love and the associated pain. This could be a sign that they fear vulnerability and the possibility of further disappointment. The lyrics also mention “golden tables” and “broken mirrors,” which suggests a superficial and glamorous environment in which individuals ignore their emotions and desires to adhere to societal expectations. The repeated lines, “don’t wanna talk about it,” reinforce the narrator’s desire to sweep problems under the rug.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Deflect the Conversation

In conversations about sensitive issues like race, sexual orientation, and gender identity, it can be tempting to deflect the conversation by declining to answer a question or by lying. These tactics, however, can have serious consequences if they are uncovered, including decreased trust and feelings of liking.

Schweitzer and his former PhD student Brad Bitterly found that when asked a difficult question, it is often more effective to change the subject by using humor or posing a new question rather than refusing to answer or telling a lie. For example, if you are asked about your income, a simple joke such as “Will this impact who pays for coffee?” can shift the topic and help you avoid revealing personal information.

It can be incredibly frustrating to interact with someone who frequently uses deflection. It is important to remember that their behavior is a coping mechanism and they may be feeling vulnerable or uncomfortable. Try to be understanding and empathic with their emotions while also remaining firm in expressing your own needs. When they attempt to deflect the conversation, gently redirect back to the original topic and remain calm.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

People are naturally guarded to a degree, so it is important to ask questions that get to the heart of an issue. Private investigators know how to social engineer, or gather information by building rapport with a person and asking questions in the most discreet way possible. It’s also important to be mindful of the order in which you ask questions. Studies have shown that participants are more likely to reveal sensitive answers when questions are asked in a decreasing order of intrusiveness. This makes the question asker seem less intrusive and more respectful. It also allows the participant to think about their answer before they give it. Leslie and her coauthors note that this tactic may be especially useful during tense encounters.

People are often afraid to ask questions because they feel like they are looking vulnerable, unsure or ignorant. However, good leaders and business owners constantly ask questions because they understand that they don’t always have all the answers.