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How to Spot a Liar in the Workplace…

The ability to spot liars is often a crucial career factor... is provided by CommPRO Global, Inc. (CommPRO) to give visitors the opportunity to read about events and share opinions for those interested in the integrated communications business sectors. is provided by CommPRO Global, Inc. (CommPRO) to give visitors the opportunity to read about events and share opinions for those interested in the integrated communications business sectors.

Both sides of the political aisle are calling each other liars. We’ve been introduced to the concepts of “alternate truths” and a “post-truth” world. Deception is in the headlines and on the national stage.

But deception is also in the workplace, and the ability to spot liars – and not be deceived by empty promises or misleading information — is often a crucial career factor. How about you? How do you know when someone is lying to you?

Do you know, for example, that there is no single verbal or nonverbal behavior that automatically means a person is lying? Much of “lie detection” is actually “stress detection,” because the mind has to work a lot harder to generate a false response. In order to tell a lie, the brain first has to stop itself from telling the truth, then create the deception, and then deal with the accompanying emotions of anxiety, guilt, and the fear of being caught. And, because lying is taxing for the human brain, most of us are rather bad liars who signal our deceptions with verbal and nonverbal stress cues.

Of course, not all lies are stressful. Social lies, for example, are so much a part of daily life that they hardly ever distress the sender, and when liars are polished or pathological, they rarely display signs of stress or guilt. Truthful people can exhibit anxiety for a variety of perfectly innocent reasons including (ironically), the fear of not being believed. And if a person really believes the lie being told, there is no way that you (nor a polygraph, for that matter) can spot that falsehood.

So I can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to identify every lie you hear, but I can help you become more keenly alert to the signs of increased stress and anxiety that most often accompany deception, and to the verbal “acrobatics” that often precede a lie. As you increase your ability to spot these signals, you’ll begin automatically to pinpoint and monitor behaviors that you feel need to be investigated: indications of concealed thoughts, feelings, or opinions, that suggest the whole story is not being told.

Tip #1 – Begin with a Baseline.

The first and most important step in deception detection is learning a person’s baseline behavior under relaxed or generally stress-free conditions so that you can compare it with the expressions, gestures, speaking style and other signals that are only apparent when that person is under stress.

Experienced interrogators looking to identify guilt or innocence begin by asking a series of non-threatening questions while observing how the subject reacts when there is no reason to lie. Then, when more crucial issues get introduced, they watch for changes in behavior that may indicate deception around key points – or at least indicate areas that need to be further explored. In a business setting, you can follow a similar path. It only takes a few minutes to get a feel for how someone acts in a relaxed or neutral setting, and the best time to do this is before the negotiation/interview/meeting starts — for instance while having coffee and making small talk. This first few minutes may be amazingly valuable later.

For example: Sometimes, in an effort to stop their gestures from “giving them away,” liars will make themselves sit or stand with unnatural stillness. (I’ve seen people freeze mid-gesture, as they suddenly realize that their body language was inappropriate.) This “statue effect” is a very useful cue, but is most revealing when it is in direct opposition to that person’s more relaxed baseline behavior.

Tip #2 – Request a Direct Answer Your Question.

Because most people would prefer not to lie, they will give answers that “talk around” the issue. Don’t let liars get away with “non-answers” that include:

• Stalling. Repeating the question, asking that the question be repeated, or asking a question back rather than replying to what was asked—all give the liar extra time to fabricate an answer.

Question: “Why did you leave your last job?”

Response: “Why did I leave my last job?” or “Why do you think that is important?”

• Attacks: Liars may go into attack mode and try to impeach your credibility or competence with questions like “Why are you wasting my time with this stuff?”

• Selective wording: Liars often avoid answering the question exactly as asked. In both of the following examples, the liar never really answered the question.

Question: “Have you ever used drugs?”

Response: “I don’t use drugs.”

Question: “Did you steal the money from petty cash?”

Response: “I wasn’t even working that day.”

Liars may say something that sounds like a denial but isn’t: “Do I look like someone who would do that?” instead of “No, I didn’t do it.”

• Guilt-trip statements. Liars make a show of taking offence in the hope that you’ll abandon the question while defending yourself. For example, a female liar might say, “I’ll bet you aren’t hounding any of the men about this. Why is it that you presume only a woman would be guilty?”

• Convincing statements. Liars will deflect the question by trying to convince you that nothing in their past would indicate deceit. So the woman in the previous example might add, “Look, I am a hard worker and I have been a good employee here for 10 years. I don’t understand why you are treating me this way.”

(See the original article on CommPRO)

About the Author: Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is an international keynote speaker, and the author of “The Truth About Lies in the Workplace.” She can be reached at [email protected] or through her website:

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