The Cotton Eye Joe

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Several years ago when I was a young police officer I attended an interdiction course from Shawn Pardazi. Pardazi is quite the character who planted ideas that really stuck with me. I don’t remember all of the details but my take away is that by asking people specific and direct questions you can identify if they have a consistent story or if there are inconsistencies that need further investigation. In his course, he didn’t rely on an individual’s body language or other highly subjective things to do the heavy lifting for investigations; simply the story that the person told and the identification of ‘red flags’. Importantly, his technique was reproducible.

When you’re dealing with humans you’re not going to get it right every time. This might surprise you but not everyone is exactly the same and sometimes people lie. The importance of having techniques that you can reproduce, that others can use, and that has a high rate of accuracy can not be understated. Throughout my years as a police officer and later as a detective, I developed my own personal way to identify red flags; The Cotton Eye Joe. Growing up in Central Texas, the 1994 ‘Rednex’ version of this song was heavily played at various dance halls I went to. The important part for the technique is ‘Where did you come from, where did you go’ and the crowd’s reply of ‘Bullshit!’.

When you are trying to decide if a person is authentic, you attempt to investigate their background (where did you come from?). In day to day interactions you might not be able to ask them about themselves and you may have to rely on how they are dressed and how they present themselves (are they dressed like an elevator repair tech with a hard hard and uniform?). You might also be in a situation where you actually can ask them more direct questions like ‘where are you coming from?’. There story should match with who they are and with the follow up questions.

Where are you going? What are you doing here? Who are you here to visit? These are all examples of the ‘Where did you go?’ part of the Cotton Eye Joe. Look for a consistent story. If an elevator repair tech is here to fix your elevators, they can tell you where they came from (the elevator repair company), they should be dressed appropriately, and they can tell you where they are going (to fix the elevator), and show you some contact information that you can verify. Someone who is lying to you won’t be able to answer these simple questions or their story will change or not make sense. In that case, you can call them on their ‘Bullshit!’. An important note is that just because someone’s story is inconsistent, or if they are obviously lying, doesn’t mean they are being nefarious. It’s possible they have other reasons to hide their intentions (surprise party, affair, pen-testing, looking for a new job). This technique is supposed to help you quickly sniff out lies and authentic vs inauthentic people.

Of course, they could be good at lying or have a well-rehearsed story and then it gets more difficult. More next time.