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Get the Truth: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Persuade

I’m currently taking a forty-five hour course called Citizen’s Academy, taught by police officers. In the hopes of appearing less ignorant in class, I decided to read Get the Truth: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Persuade Anyone to Tell All. Though I haven’t yet had the opportunity to use any of my new-found knowledge in class, I look forward to sharing what I’ve read. It was a fun, easy, and informative read.

The book is written by CIA officers Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero, with commentaries by attorney Peter Romary (though I should add that although his name is not on the cover, Don Tennant is mentioned as the actual writer). But before talking about the book itself, I feel the need to mention what this book is not. That is, it is not about torture.

That’s the first thing my husband asked when he saw the title. The authors make clear, however, that “enhanced interrogation techniques,” otherwise known as torture, are not their thing. They all condone non-coercive techniques for getting to the truth of a matter. And, as studies have shown, they maintain that torture is counterproductive.

Instead, the book advocates quite the opposite: using the power of a calm demeanor and persuasion. Former CIA officers Houston, Floyd, and Carnicero give anecdotes from past cases. They also illustrate techniques, explain the difference between interview and interrogation, show how to get people into short-term thinking, teach us how to recognize short-term thinking, describe how to transition from an interview to an interrogation, and give tips on how to deal with resistance. Short-term thinking is key, they write, because when people are in the short-term-thinking mode, they aren’t worrying about the longer-term consequences of their admissions.

Romary, a lawyer, discusses each of the previous chapters, offering further insights. For instance, the first chapter recalls when coauthor Houston conducted a routine polygraph for a CIA employee named Mary. During the interview, Mary reacted poorly to the question “have you ever worked for the bad guys?” — so Houston needed to get the real story. He put Mary into the short-term thinking mode and presented the fix as telling the truth, and eventually got it out of her.

Later, Romary digs deeper. Why was Mary initially not concerned about the polygraph when she reacted to the bad-guys question? Like people who buy lottery tickets, or who text while they drive, Romary writes, Mary was a victim of her own optimism bias. She was sure she wouldn’t get caught. Other people, after all, are the ones who get caught. So, Romary tells us, it was a combination of optimism bias and short-term thinking that garnered the truth.

Romary also discusses confirmation bias, how to be effective in negotiations, how people want to be liked, how people want to be perceived as consistent, and how people deal with cognitive dissonance. He then explains how each of these can be used in negotiations of any kind, not just in the realm of law enforcement.

One of my favorite parts of the book came from Romary’s commentary in chapter ten. He starts with a quote from an Auden poem:

“I and the public know

What all schoolchildren learn,

Those to whom evil is done

Do evil in return.”

These words reinforce what the authors write about the power of liking, and the importance of not wanting to be disliked. They also teach us about the tremendous impact of the principle of reciprocity: What we do to others, or what others perceive we have done to them, may well be done to us — good or bad.

Although the end goal is completely different, Get the Truth would make a great companion to Dale Carnegie’s famous How to Win Friends and Influence People and Joseph Romm’s Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga. The three books together could make up the bulk of a class on persuasion and leadership. On its own, Get the Truth is a good, fun, and easy read, with little helpful nuggets that will stay with you.

Get the Truth: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Persuade Anyone to Tell All

St. Martin’s Press, March 2015

Hardcover, 288 pages


Get the Truth: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Persuade

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Gwen Nicodemus

APA Reference
Nicodemus, G. (2016). Get the Truth: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Persuade. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 May 2016
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 May 2016
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