Lie detection is an art; here are some skills, By Bob Vecchiotti

It’s been suggested that, on average, people lie about 10 times a day. That does not include those little white lies that are said to stop a conversation from going any further. This is when a person who is not feeling well answers the question “How are you feeling?” with the reply “I’m feeling well, thank you.”

There is a much darker side to contemporary lying habits that includes deliberate falsehoods. Or with comments such as “I misspoke,” which dilutes the word lie. Some of these are included in the 10 lies per day statistic. They represent a fast-growing habit to cover up the truth for whatever reason.

Lying is noticeable during interviews, on resumes, in formal reports and in the casual conversations “at the water cooler.” Pathological lying is easily spotted and checked as often as it occurs and until the person is removed from employment.

Recent studies indicate that people on average feel compelled to significantly lie at least once or twice a day. A lie is a lie whether it’s a few “white” lies or just one serious lie. Each can make a significant difference in decision results, attitudes and activities.

Has lying at work become a serious problem? There’s a sense that it’s okay to lie since everyone does it. In one survey, most people (59 percent) say they rarely lie at work, but what percentage of that sample is a lie? The same survey says 17 percent is the likelihood.

Twenty three percent of the population reports it never lies. And how many of them are really telling the truth versus giving a socially acceptable answer?

How can you spot a lie and a liar? Studies indicate it is possible by paying attention to speech characteristics and body language. The suggestions that come from experts are usually the best.

Here’s a sample from the literature. If a person’s nose gets noticeably longer … never mind, that’s in a Disney movie. Liars tend to speak more in detail when lying. Presumably this involves trying to influence another person to do something based on the lie or lies. Further, they may repeat words and phrases more than usual. They may offer a lot of detail that doesn’t seem appropriate or relevant.

Watch to see how many words a person uses when lying. Another characteristic associated with serious lying is an increase in profanity. The greater the lie the worse the profanity. Another finding from research on lying concludes that liars tend to use more third-person pronouns, mostly to distance themselves from accountability. It’s hard for liars to stop a lie once introduced.

There are certain body shifts that signal a lie is in progress; for example, if the person shifts their head position quickly. The head is jerked back or titled to one side, or bowed down. When they cover their throat when speaking this can be an indication they are lying. An obvious sign is no eye contact. The person in that case tends to look away more frequently.

Psycholinguists suggest that when a person’s voice changes pitch, or begins to stammer, and or a person clears their throat a lot, it suggests they may be lying. They may try to change the subject sometimes with humor, too, another potential indicator.

But what about email? Apparently, it’s easier to spot a lie in an email or tweet than it is face-to-face. With some people averaging engagement with more than 200 emails a day, it’s important to be aware of some of the signals that the email in your inbox is a lie. If the email lacks first person pronouns such as “I” or “we” or “me,” the sender may have a lie in the email.

You have time to check and go over an email that you don’t have in a verbal message. If the email includes unrelated material or tangents, that may indicate lying. Phrases such as “I swear” or “to be honest” suggest a need for support to hold up what it is being included and may indicate lying.

Use of the past tense rather than the present may indicate content that is being made up. A lengthy email with detail that is truly insignificant can indicate a lie, too, experts have found.

Psychologists have mostly ignored researching the lie. Other specialties — such as counselors, police and human resource interviewers — are developing a fine-tuned ear for lies. One study from psychology suggests that the most frequent lie is “I’ll call you!” As a businessman, the one I like is “The check is in the mail.” Another study suggests that extroverts are slightly more likely to lie than introverts. The FBI uses a trick that asks a person to repeat a story backwards. Liars are said to have difficulty recalling.

By and large, lies are hard to detect; even lie detectors are not valid from 25 to 75 percent of the time. Most likely the polygraph detects fear and not necessarily lying. Such results are rarely used in the courts as evidence.

In the end, it’s important to remember that most people are basically honest. It’s a small percentage that is prone to lie often.

Now you have some ways in which to better spot a lie.

Dr. Bob Vecchiotti is a business psychologist serving clients in the Monadnock Region and beyond. He can be reached at 924-2012 or at rav@leadershipexpert.com.

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