It’s Saturday night. You have your best duds on. You’ve actually taken a shower. You might have even combed your hair. You’re now ready to hit the party. But are you really ready? Do you know how to get what you want? Do you even know what you want?
And yes. You want something.
No, really. It’s true. Everyone wants something at a party, even you. Whether it’s access to the best drinks, a date with a certain girl or guy, or maybe to learn some trade secrets; you want something.
When trying to decide the best historical references for espionage or intelligence gathering I could use as an example, I contemplated Hannibal, Alexander the Great, Caesar, Hitler, Churchill, and Wild Bill Donovan, as well as organizations like the MOSSAD, KGB, GRU, Stasi, and MI6, but in the end, I came up with the American high school cheerleader.
The cheerleader is perhaps the best intelligence collector/espionage operator ever invented. She (or he) has the innate ability to get what she wants. So how does she do it? How does the use of espionage differ from regular high school politics at a party? As it turns out, not so much. In fact, there’s a lot we could learn from, or should have learned from, high school that we can use in social gatherings to get what we want.
The biggest mistake is to walk up to someone and start talking about yourself. Ever have someone come up and start immediately detailing all the great and wonderful things or all the terrible things about them. Did you want to gnaw off your foot to get out of there? Did you shove someone else in front of you to protect yourself from the self-interested onslaught? I know I have.
Another mistake is to walk up and start immediately asking someone about themselves. It can feel so much like an interrogation. Why is he asking me this? What’s going on? Does he work for my ex-wife’s lawyer? You don’t want any of those thoughts going through someone’s mind.
The best way to make it into an inner circle is to lay a foundation. We don’t do this with bricks, but with ideas and statements.
“I love this kind of beer. I had it once when I was in Germany.”
“Look at that textured wall paint. I wonder if the owners watch those home improvement shows.”
Or as the cheerleader would say, her head cocked, her hands on her waist, Do you think she’s as pretty as people say?
You approach, make a statement, then provide context. In the case of the beer, you’ve now created the possibility of people asking you about Germany, and why you were there, and under what circumstances. If you know they’re from Germany or have been there, even better—just be prepared to defend your assertion.
In the case of the paint, you made a statement and asked an open-ended question, one which should generate additional conversation about different shows, hot-looking hosts, and the efficacies of papier-mâché and plaid as wall decorations.
In the case of the cheerleader, you can now talk about someone else while you establish a non-verbal and verbal baseline with her.
Sadly, I didn’t come across this information easily. While I was busy breathing hard, fumbling over my words and trying to act cool but failing badly, these are all things the cool people did in high school. I remember once when a cheerleader named Kris came up to me in the lunchroom. She didn’t say Hi. She didn’t ask me a question or tell me about herself. Instead, she made a general comment about the nature of the food, which immediately put me at ease and allowed me to hold a semblance of a conversation. Sadly, I was too much of a young fool to seal the deal with Kris, but I remembered her lesson, even when it was taught to me again during military training.
You say it can’t be that simple.
Actually. It. Can.
Pretend to be a cheerleader and become the best espionage practitioner on the planet.
Weston Ochse’s last name is pronounced “oaks.” Together with his first name, it sounds like a stately trailer park. He is the author of nine novels, most recently SEAL Team 666, which comes out in December 2012. He lives in the Arizona desert within rock throwing distance of Mexico. For fun he races tarantula wasps and watches the black helicopters dance along the horizon.
Read all of Weston Ochse’s posts for Criminal Element.