5 Tips to Spot a Lie
"You'll be receiving payment within seven days." "I've never stolen from an employer." "All our work has been inspected and certified."
Wouldn't it be nice to know when people are telling you the truth and when they're not? There is a way. Janine Driver spent decades training FBI, CIA, and ATF agents in how to spot lying, and her new book, You Can't Lie to Me, explains how it's done.
"A lot of entrepreneurs get embezzled or taken advantage of," she says. To avoid such a fate, follow these steps to start spotting untruths:
1. Start by observing how the person normally behaves.
Before you try to tell whether someone is lying to you, you have to get a sense of how he or she communicates in a normal, nonstressful conversation. "Talk about the Red Sox, or a friend from elementary school who found you on Facebook," she suggests. You need this baseline, because behavior that might indicate a problem, such as rapidly tapping a foot or using a lot of verbal fillers such as "um" and "well," might simply be this person's normal communication mode.
"When you're building rapport with people, that's when you get their baseline," Driver says. "You need a minimum of three minutes to do it."
2. Listen carefully.
Statement analysis can help you discern when someone isn't telling the truth, Driver says. For instance, if you ask a yes or no question, the answer should actually contain the word yes or no. Watch out for a denial that doesn't include a no.
Let's say you ask, "Have you ever stolen from an employer?" "If the answer is, 'I would never do that,' that could be a signal," Driver says. It's OK if the answer is "No, never," as long as the word no is in there, she adds. But if you think about it, "I would never do that" is a statement about the future, not an answer to your question about the past.
3. Look for "hot spots."
When someone deviates from his or her baseline in a suspicious way, Driver calls it a hot spot--an area to which you should pay close attention. Body language is a good way to find hot spots. Driver uses the children's song "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" as a way of breaking down observations of someone's body to reveal that person's true feelings. For instance, look at the direction a person's feet or belly button is pointing to get a sense of that person's true interest or intentions, she says. A shoulder shrug indicates uncertainty.
And keep an eye out for facial expressions. An eyebrow "flash," when eyebrows move upward, usually means people like what they've just heard or seen. Pursing or sucking in the lips means the opposite. And if one side of someone's mouth goes up in a half smile, that's a smirk that usually indicates contempt or superiority--an expression Dick Cheney frequently wears, Driver notes. But it can also mean self-satisfaction or pride.
4. Ask follow-up questions.
Just because you have a hot spot doesn't necessarily mean you have a lie, but you do have a good reason to explore further with a few more questions. For example, "Explain this gap in your résumé" leads to the answer, "I was home raising my kids." "People often leak contempt when they're lying," Driver says.
So she recommends asking something like, "I may be wrong, but it seems to me you felt proud when I asked you about that time?" The explanation could be that the applicant took a lot of pride in the time spent being a parent. You won't know unless you ask, and you shouldn't try to be a mind reader.
5. Ask if they're telling the truth.
"The last question you should ask is, 'Did you tell me the truth when you answered all these questions?'" Driver says. "We're looking for a yes or a no." Surprisingly, some people will admit to a small (or large!) lie at this point, and you can get at the truth.
If someone will be in a position of trust and you really need to know whether this person is truthful, you can follow up with a particularly powerful question: "Why should I believe you?"
Here's the tricky part: Whatever answer you get first, don't accept it and ask a second time. "That didn't really answer my question--why should I believe you?"
Listen carefully for the next answer. It should be short, simple, and to the point, something like, "Because I've told you the truth." But a liar will tend to overcompensate. This may take the form of getting angry and accusing you of something, such as not wanting to believe even though he or she is telling the truth, or saying he or she doesn't want to do work with you anyway. On the flip side, the liar may overcompensate with a lot of character references. "You can ask anyone I've ever worked for whether I'm honest or not!"
Incidentally, Driver says, when you hear something like that, always take them up on it. "No one ever does," Driver says. "But you're likely to be surprised at what you find out."
MINDA ZETLIN | Columnist | Co-author, The Geek Gap
Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.