Pamela Meyer’s mission is to help people get to the truth. Extensively trained in the use of visual cues and psychology to detect deception, Myer teaches audiences how to go from lie-spotting to truth-seeking to trust-building. Her riveting TED Talk, How to Spot a Liar, has been viewed over 9 million times, making it one of the 20 most popular talks of all time, while her book, Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception, was a bestseller. Combining her unique understanding of deception with her honed business acumen, Pamela provides audiences with lessons and takeaways that can be immediately put to use. Below, Pamela provides tips on how to spot a liar in your midst:
Liespotting is what I call the critical modern skill you need to take back the truth in a world cluttered with spam, fake digital friends, doctored résumés, massaged numbers, partisan media, ingenious identity thieves and world-class Ponzi schemers. You need it because sophisticated modern technology and the instant nature of contemporary communications have multiplied the opportunities for lying and deception to the point where it is now an epidemic.
When you acquire liespotting skills, which I describe in full in my book Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception, you become more confident and more secure. You can detect, handle, counter and even cancel the injurious effects of being on the receiving end of lies and deceit. As you sharpen your analytic skills, you become less tentative and more informed, less speculative and much more confident in your perceptions and judgments. So you become more trusting, not more wary; less suspicious, not more paranoid.
Here are four tips for keeping from being lied to and to catch it when it happens.
Tip 1: Learn who tends to lie, and understand their motivation.
Deceptive people tend to be what are called high self-monitors. They keep their emotions in check while they read others well, having a natural ability to view the world from another person’s vantage point.
Researchers who study deception have found furthermore that extroverts lie more than introverts and that those with power tend to be more comfortable lying. Also, we feel more comfortable lying to people we find deceptive themselves–so it pays to be honest and known for your integrity. People feel less guilty lying to someone they see as a wrong-doer.
The lies we tell tend to fall into two categories: offensive lies and defensive ones. The former would include lying to get something not otherwise easily available (for instance, bribing someone to cinch a deal), or lying to create a positive impression (overstating your involvement in a charity or boosting sales projections in a sales meeting when the whole team is watching). Defensive lying would include telling an untruth to avoid punishment or embarrassment or to protect someone else–which is one of the most common motives for deception, especially among women.
Tip 2: Know the basic verbal and nonverbal clues, and use them as red flags to ask questions.
Classic verbal clues include:
–An unrelaxed avoidance of contractions, for emphasis: “I did not” rather than “I didn’t.”
–Excessive specificity: “I did not steal that $200″ rather than “I’ve never stolen a dime in my life.”
–A retreat to distancing language: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
–Repeating a question in full to buy time to formulate a response: “What time did I lock the safe and leave the office on Monday night? Let me think …”
–The compounding of the repeat-the-question-in-full dodge with the follow-up-with-a-qualifying-statement ruse: “What time did I lock the safe and leave the office on Monday night? Let me think. As far as I can recall … to the best of my knowledge … as far as I know …” The Watergate hearings marked the apotheosis–or nadir–of the overuse of qualifying statements.
Nonverbal clues follow classic patterns, too:
–Liars often freeze their upper bodies.
–They rub or touch their eyes.
–They curl their feet inward, or point them toward the nearest exit.
–They fiddle with objects on a desk, or place objects on the desk, like purses or briefcases, forming barriers.
–They make excessive eye contact in fealty to the myth that truth-tellers always look you in the eye.
–They express post-interview relief with a sigh, a false smile or a pronounced change in posture when they think the tough questioning is over.
Tip 3: Watch out for contempt–and flee from it–when choosing business partners or team members.
Contempt is the ultimate red flag. The corner of a lip will pull in and up on one side of the face; on the same side a nostril may contract in a dismissive sneer. Contempt is the only asymmetrical facial expression, so it’s easy to spot once you’re aware of its signs. One researcher has successfully tracked it in couples as a predictor of divorce. When someone is angry at you, you’ve still got traction with them, but when they display contempt, you’ve been dismissed. It’s a poisonous emotion, especially when paired with deception. Once someone shows it, it rarely goes away.
Tip 4: Don’t place team members under unrealistic stretched goal pressure.
Research suggests that employees and colleagues given “stretch” goal targets or put under extreme performance pressure can become paralyzed at the prospect of failure, and they are then most likely to lie about their work or fudge numbers to protect their jobs–especially if their compensation is pegged to unreachable stretched goals. They will often feel they have no choice but to dissemble so they can meet their numbers. Avoid that whole situation.