Trained Liespotters can tell when someone is lying, but it's not a magic trick, said Pamela Meyer, author of the book "Liespotting" and a Certified Fraud Examiner and Harvard MBA, who discussed how to spot lies during a session at the Woman's Foodservice Forum Monday in Dallas. Although deciphering a truth from a lie takes practice and training, almost anyone can learn the technique if they study body language and listen for specific verbal cues, Meyer said. Here's how:
Part of a professional liespotter's job is to review transcripts of conversations to pick out certain verbal cues that signal a lying red flag. People can look for these same types of cues when talking with employees or peers. They include:
- Detour statements: Answering without directly answering the question.
- Minimizing language: Someone who stole from a company will often say "I didn't 'take' anything," replacing "steal" with "take" to soften the negative implication.
- Flashes of unsustained anger: Someone who is innocent when asked if they know about a theft will be angry that the incident occurred. Guilty people will try to fake it.
- Telling a story in strict chronological order. People don't remember events in order, Meyer said. They usually start with the most dramatic part of the story.
- The switching of past and present tenses. In one interview convicted murder Scott Peterson talked about how much he "had loved" his wife in the past tense before it was known she was dead. During that same interview, he quickly corrected himself to say he "loves" her .
- And too much detail or not enough emotion.
People have all types of physical tells when they lie, Meyer said, but they may include:
- Freezing certain body parts.
- Fake smiling.
- Grooming themselves, running fingers through their hair or picking at their clothes.
- Closing their eyes.
- Shoulder shrugs.
- Feet tapping.
- Too much eye contact.
- Not enough eye contact.
- And shifts in postures.
When is it a lie?
Just because a person engages in one of these body behaviors or verbal cues doesn't mean they are automatically lying. The key, Meyer said, is to look for clusters of these behaviors, but even when you see a few of them, you can't assume they are lying. It should signal you, however, to ask another question. Asking more or harder questions allows you to keep assessing behavior in order to see if they are lying or if one of their behaviors, foot tapping, for example, is just part of their normal body language.
Getting a baseline
In order to accurately judge a person's verbal and nonverbal language, you must first learn what's normal, Meyer said, which is why interrogators often start interviews with suspects by asking them questions in which they already know the answers. It allows the interviewer to see how the person acts when they know they are telling the truth.
The most important thing to keep in mind when trying to spot lies, Meyer said, is to pursue facts, not people. Don't get caught up in whatever "bad" thing a person is trying to hide. Instead, ask yourself if the person is "friends with the facts," Meyer said. If someone is trying to avoid the facts, s/he is probably lying.
Cherryh Butler has been a reporter and editor for nearly 15 years, writing on a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry to business and health and fitness news. Before joining Networld Media Group as managing editor of Food/Retail Publications, she was content specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City and has served as editor for several publications. She's also written for several daily newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine.