You’ve been hired to access the data center of a highly secure facility. You spend hours researching the facilities security, combing their website, and searching through employees’ social media accounts. After some digging, you find that this company works with a specific corporate cleaning vendor on a regular basis. You decide to impersonate an employee of this vendor to get in the door. All your planning has come together to create your pretext for the engagement. You know from experience the power of a good pretext.

Chris Hadnagy defines pretexting as “the art of creating a context or occasion for a conversation so that you’re more likely to achieve your goals.” When creating a pretext, you are “assigning yourself a role to play.” You are also “presenting a rational justification, explanation, or ‘excuse’ for pursuing a social encounter of some kind.”

Pretexting as a Social Engineer

If you had heard of pretexting before clicking on this blog, you may align it with social engineering, or with use in a professional setting. Pretexting is one of the many tools in a social engineering tool belt. When utilized properly, it lends credibility to your engagement and helps you reach your goal. Pretexting’s usefulness, however, does not stop at the professional level.

Pretexting in Everyday Life

“Pretexting in everyday life entails selectively presenting parts of the truth in order to create an advantageous context for a conversation, so that you can quickly build rapport” (Hadnagy, Christopher. Human Hacking: Win Friends, Influence People, and Leave Them Better Off for Having Met You, Harper Collins 2021).

Subconsciously, many of us use pretexting in day-to-day life. We might briefly consider what approach to a conversation will give us the outcome we want. For example, when preparing for a job interview, we likely plan our outfit, and have some general ideas of responses we would like to make during the interview. We try and play the part of the perfect potential employee. We push traits or skills to the forefront that we see as positive for the job, whether that be cheerfulness, wittiness, organizational skills, or showcasing our hard work ethic. Putting specific traits on show may or may not produce the outcome we desire, but it will likely get us closer to it.

What if we apply this method to other occasions and conversations throughout our lives purposefully, rather than just subconsciously? Chris Hadnagy explores this in his book Human Hacking: Win Friends, Influence People, and Leave Them Better Off for Having Met You. For an in-depth dive into this topic, as well as practical examples and exercises you can try yourself, we highly recommend this book. For the purpose of this blog, let’s focus on some starting points.

Root Everything in Truth

Choosing to present parts of yourself in order to create an advantageous situation works best if it is indeed a part of yourself. In the professional realm, lying may be permitted per your contract. For example, impersonating a corporate cleaning vendor is likely not rooted in truth. But creating a pretext like this one for use in day-to-day life is neither honest nor, likely, advantageous. When pretexting for the day-to-day, aim to highlight parts of yourself rather than invent them.

As an example, let’s say you have a goal of getting your doctor’s billing office to explain some charges that were not disclosed to you prior to your visit, and to lower the cost. While you might be frustrated at the lack of assistance and explanations from the office, playing the angry, fed up patient may not get you very far. On the other hand, playing the confused and tired, but kind, patient will probably get you closer to reaching your goal. You may be angry, frustrated, confused, tired, and a kind person. Choosing to present select emotions is still rooted in the truth of who you are and how you feel, while leveraging the conversation to your advantage.

Outline Your Conversation

All of us have likely imagined how approaching an important conversation would go. For some of us, this process might involve picturing the worst and most unlikely outcomes. Imagine if, instead, we focused on what was most likely to happen. Thinking through a conversation and the important points you want to bring out, as well as topics you may want to avoid, can help your important conversations go more smoothly. This is true whether you are preparing for an interview or sitting down to talk about an emotional topic with your significant other, friend, or family member.

Don’t overthink it! Try to avoid preparing a response for every possible question or pre-planning your answers. Aim to be in the moment. Think of your preparation as more of an outline, like your interviewing tactics. Reminding yourself which emotions you want to present can help you stay on target.

Consider the Other Persons Emotions

In each situation we’ve discussed (getting into the data center, interviewing for a job, and having an important discussion) the outcome depends on one major thing; how the other person involved feels about you and your requests. What this means for you, is that focusing on the other person and their feelings is going to be in your best interest.

As you develop your pretext and decide on what facets of yourself to present, keep the other person in the forefront of your mind. Take time to consider what you know about them and what feelings you are seeking to invoke. Although this will vary depending on your relation to the person, focusing on how your actions affect others will never be a bad thing.

Build a Pretext

Over the next couple of weeks, we challenge you to consciously create simple pretexts for day-to-day situations. Actively think about how you can reach your goals while remaining honest and focused on others. Connect with us on Twitter to let us know how it went!