How to spot a liar
Patty A Wood, MA, CSP
In the most important interviews of their careers Gary Condit sucked in his lips and stuck out his tongue, Bill Clinton touched his nose about every four minutes and Enron's Ken Lay overacted and was over confident. In these public moments they gave us nonverbal cues that they were lying. They lost their credibility.
Maintaining credibility is an important part of customer service. You need to trust the people you do business with. Your customers need to trust you to be honest with them. If you feel that the car salesman is trying to sell you a lemon or the computer help desk is lying about the need to upgrade to their new software your confidence in their business is undermined. When you tell a customer that you can deliver in three months and swipe your tongue across your lips he picks up on a subconscious level that you may be lying and you lose the sale. When your front counter employee smiles and sarcastically says they are so sorry you are so upset, the words are meaningless. Can you spot a liar? And can you not be seen as a liar yourself.
Nonverbal Communication is the way the subconscious mind speaks. No matter how much you want to control it, it gives clues to how you are truly feeling. This makes it an ideal medium for detecting lies. Eyes, head, voice and hands leak out cues of withholding and deception or cues that can establish credibility. Body Language cues an undeniable although the underlying motivation and interpretation can vary.
There are up to 10,000 body language cues packed in every minute of interaction. When someone is not telling the truth, their nonverbal behavior speaks volumes. Body language cues are undeniable although the underlying motivation and the interpretation can vary. Therefore you need to base your interpretation on a number of factors called deception cues.
NONVERBAL DECEPTION CUES
The Nine Months Pregnant Pause – Pauses
Liars have longer pauses, shorter answers and longer times between a question and a response than someone who is merely nervous. It makes sense that liars need time to create the lie, recalling the truth takes less time. If you ask a clerk if they gave you back the correct change and there is a long pause before their response it may be an indication of deceit. This is not a cue you would take in isolation as fact. You might combine it with checking to see where their eyes go after you ask them the question.
People tend to look up to the right to visualize or create a new response or down to the right to create the sounds of a new response. We recall information that occurred in the past by looking up to the left or down to the left. Spot a liar by listening for pauses and right eye movement. Be credible by answering spontaneously.
The Hands Have it - Excessive Gesturing and Adaptors
If you lie spontaneously in the moment you will tend to spend more time gesturing with your hands and using adapters, such as scratching your body or playing with a pen than someone who is just nervous.
If you ask Sara in Payroll, who serves you the internal customer, why your check is so late, and then she picks up the beanie baby from on her desk, begins to play with it as she says she has worked on this for hours and she has no idea. If this frog juggling seems excessive, and especially if it is combined with other cues of deception you have got her. Realize the rehearsed or practiced liar who has planned their deceit ahead of time will try to control gestures.
Mind Your Mouth - Mouth, Lips, and Tongue Cues
Be careful of pursing or licking your lips. Condit pursed his lips and sucked them inward more than 14 times in his famous 2002 television interview with Connie Chung. This can indicate extreme anxiety, withholding information and withholding aggression. Tight lips indicate you may be planning to keep the truth in. If you actually suck the lips part way in, you may be withholding anger. When you are nervous, your mouth becomes dry, and you lick your lips and swallow as you struggle to find the right words to say.
Be Still My Love -- Lack of Animation
Deception is all about keeping something hidden. The more a person moves his body or expresses with his voice and the more he or she speaks, the more we can learn. Practiced liars know this and usually keep as still as possible. Being overly controlled can work against you. Gary Condit was coached to stay still in his television interview. So he kept his face inexpressive, his upper body stiff and his legs crossed. First, he looked frozen, and then when he couldn't hold it any longer he leaked out aggression cues such as finger pointing grasping motions and sticking out his tongue. We spotted a liar. I have often seen a normally animated customer service rep get up to a product explanation and become a monotone automatron. The audience wonders what you are hiding and is bored to tears. Spot a liar by looking for someone who is too stiff and still. Don't look like a liar by making sure you are naturally animated.
Hand Jive -- Hiding Hands
The hands come out symbolically from the heart; hands and arms symbolically express the emotions of the heart. Liars tend to keep their hands hidden and still. They stick them in their pockets, clench them together or hold them behind their backs. Imagine that the person who you suspect of lying has the truth in the palms of their hands and see if they show it to you. It is not surprising that one of the first things we do to start a business interaction or close a deal with a customer is shake hands. My three years of academic research on handshakes show that the single most important factor in the handshake is palm to palm contact. Research also shows, when you’re the customer and don't get it, you wonder what the person is hiding, you are uncomfortable for the rest of the interaction and you are less likely to purchase. When people are trying to hide their true feeling or the truth they may stick their hands in their pockets, clench them together, or hold the behind their backs. To spot liars -- look to see if the hands are open and "above board." Because people do hide their hands when they are nervous, if you see hidden hands ask yourself why they are nervous. Don't look like a liar by using your hands normally as you speak or if that is not normal loosely at your sides. And try not to clasp your hands together. Body language is highly symbolic and it will look like you are hiding your own hands for comfort.
Windows to the Soul -- Closed Curtains
We have what I call windows all over the body. Just as we pull down the shades when we don’t want others to see in, we also close off the entrances to our body so our true feelings aren't seen. There are windows at the bottom of the feet, the kneecaps, the bottom of the torso, the middle of the chest, the neck, mouth and eyes and the top of the head. Liars tend to close entrances to hide the truth. A liar closes these windows by putting clothing over them, turning his body away from the person he is talking to, putting objects or furniture between himself and others and most simply folding his arms. When someone's windows are closed we don't feel as comfortable in an interaction. You're asking a clerk an important question as her face is turned toward you but the rest of her body is turned toward the exit. Her windows are closed. She is saying, "I am pretending by looking at you that I want to talk but really I want to go home. I am not really interested in serving you."
In the 90's I consulted with the architect and owners of new "Ripley's Believe It or Not" museums on the layout of the entrances and ticket counters of new locations. They planned raised platforms, high counter top ticket booths an average of ten steps from the door. This design was great for security but I shared with them why it would reduce spontaneous purchases.
People had to go too far to see the ticket person and most of his or her windows would be hidden. Customers would not feel safe and comfortable. To spot a liar look for barriers and closed windows. Don't look like a liar and keep your windows open.
Why Can't We Be Friends? -- Withdrawn Behavior
If we are comfortable with ourselves and the person we are with, and the topic we are discussing, we will be open and friendly. Liars don’t usually feel very comfortable so they tend to hold back and be less friendly. It is easier for friends and intimates to lie successfully because they appear less withdrawn and friendlier. Perhaps they work harder at lying because the person knows them, perhaps they are more concerned about the consequences of detection or maybe they are better at it because they have experience lying to the person in the past. In any case they lie differently and as with career criminals, they can usually maintain a more relaxed overall demeanor and look the person straight in the eye.
Strangers need to work harder to keep others from seeing the truth. Consequently, they are more withdrawn and closed off from the person with whom they are conversing and usually don’t appear as friendly. You have heard for years that you need to be friendly with the customer. Now you know why.
Our ancestors went to the friendly tribes to trade. These days getting a front line service representative to love their jobs and enjoy dealing with the customers is incredibly difficult. Attitude problems and surly help seem be the norm. You can't just tell the help to smile. Employees need to be comfortable with their tasks and knowledge. Ask yourself "am I giving enough time to training and what am I doing to make the workplace friendly? To spot a liar look for someone unfriendly. Don't look like a liar by reaching out, being open and receptive.
I Want To Sell You A Car! -- Excessive Confidence
Have you ever experienced a super smooth salesperson? He may have over enthusiastically praised the product and you felt uncomfortable about his pitch? Then you have deciphered a lie by noting that the person sounded too good or too confident. We look and listen for anything that doesn't sound normal. Nonverbal communication, in this case paralanguage, which included things like voice, tone, volume, and speaking rate that sounds over confident or overacted is read at the subconscious level as out of the norm. Years ago a friend who was a very successful computer salesman came over to my office to do some selling for me over the phone. Instead of having a planned patter he hemmed and hawed and stumbled over his words. His mistakes surprised me. I thought he was just warming up. Five calls latter he was still sounding awkward. So I gathered up my courage and asked him about his behavior. He said, "Oh, when I first started as a salesman I was very awkward and very successful."
People went out of their way to be nice to me on the phone. Sometimes they even finished my sales pitch for me! I noticed later when I became very confident (make that cocky and fake) that I was not as successful, in fact my prospects hung up on me! So I stayed very humble. I don't worry about sounding smooth and perfect. Just being my bumbling self works for me. What my friend was experiencing is a nonverbal effect of deception. When nonverbal communication, in this case paralanguage, which includes things like voice tone, volume, speaking rate read at a subconscious level as false, our internal alarms go off. Spot a liar by going with your gut impression. Your instincts read fake at a hundred paces. Normal levels of confidence, however, also read as sincere. Don't look like a liar by being your real self.
Don't Cry For Me Argentina -- Circumstances Not Matching Demeanor
One of the first things you look for when reading body language is the alignment of the circumstances to the demeanor of the person talking to you. For instance, in Connie Chung’s television interview with Congressman Gary Condit, we expected him to be emotionally upset and embarrassed, considering he was a politician suspected of having an affair with a young woman who had been missing for 115 days.
Instead, he began the interview calmly and proceeded to become indignant. This demeanor was not what we expected. The lack of appropriateness is a sign that the person is not being sincere. When I was driving back from New York a few days after September 11th gas station attendants continued to say with feigned brightness "Have a nice day." They were on automatic pilot. I knew they didn't even realize how they sounded. Oddly enough when I shared that I was coming back from New York near Ground Zero each and every person became real and in the moment. Spot a liar who uses a planned "It's a great day. May I help you?" delivery. Don't look like a liar by being in the moment.
Nothing Is Wrong! -- Nonverbal Behavior Does Not Match Spoken Words
When the spoken words don’t agree with the nonverbal communication, we generally trust the nonverbal communication to tell us the truth. When a customer says nothing is wrong, while sitting with arms wrapped tightly around the body and a scowl on the face, we doubt her sincerity. If service rep says "yes, we can do that for you" while shaking his head "no," we can be sure he is, at least, ambivalent about the answer. Spot a liar by watching for lack of synchronicity. The subconscious reveals the truth. If the service person says, "This is a great service contract," while rubbing the eyes, it doesn't; look right, the ears, it doesn't sound right or the nose, it stinks. Look credible by having your body language match what you are saying.
A smile is the most common facial expression to mask emotions. It is often used to mask displeasure and anger. A real smile changes the entire face. The eyes light up. The forehead wrinkles, the eyebrows and cheek muscles rise, skin around the eyes and mouth crinkles and finally the mouth turns up. In a masking smile, nothing moves but the corners of the mouth and often they curve up rather than down.
Knowing these cues can help you decipher when someone else is being less than forthcoming. Sometimes people say: "It’s all in your mind." Now you know "It's all in your body."
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