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Updated: 14 Dec 2020

Do You Know When They’re Lying?

Crossed Finger - Do You Know When They’re Lying


Sharing practical advice to assist you in spotting lies in your negotiations. Examines surprising research revealing just how often we're lied to.

by Kevin Sawyer

Is lying just a part of negotiation? Recent studies about lying revealed that complete strangers lie to one another at least three times within the first couple of minutes of meeting one another. Additional research declares that you will be lied to today anywhere between ten and two hundred times!

Typical lies told by both men and women include:

  • “I’m on my way.”
  • “I’m stuck in traffic.”
  • “Sorry I missed your call.”
  • “I’m fine thanks”

The most common workplace lies:

  • “I’m sick. I won’t be in today.”
  • “Sorry I’m late. My alarm clock didn’t go off.”
  • “No, I didn’t get your email.”
  • “It wasn’t me. It was their fault.”

So, what’s going on? According to Pamela Meyer, author of the book, Lie spotting and CEO of Calibrate, a consulting firm that trains people in the art of detecting lying and deception, lying is profoundly embedded into the human psyche. We disapprove of lying in negotiations yet people regularly lie. Not only that, but it seems that most of us are just plain incompetent with regard to knowing if someone is lying to us or not.

Someone with negotiation training who has been trained to detect lies, can successfully do so 90% of the time. For the rest of us, however, we can only spot a lie slightly more than 50% of the time, which isn’t much better than guessing. So, how can we become more competent at figuring out when someone is lying to us?

According to Meyer, and other experts, the true power of a lie is in the fact that someone agrees to believe it. It seems to be a cooperative venture, this lying. Professional negotiators and lie detectors tend to focus on both speech patterns and body language. Once you know what to look for, lies start leaping out at us.

Terribly formal, are we not?

One of the first signs of lying with language is that liars can be rather formal especially with regard to using contractions.Liars tend to say things like, “I did not do it” or “I cannot believe that”. And, of course, phrases such as “In all honesty…” or “To tell you the truth…” are immediate slaps in the face that someone may not be telling you the truth.

Yeah, but can you say that backwards?

Most honest people relate a story by the emotional impact of a particular occurrence. Liars, however, take great pains in weaving their lying in chronological order. Memory doesn’t generally work that way. Many trained investigators will ask someone suspected of lying to tell their tale backwards. If liars are capable of doing it at all, it will take a while as liars have to re-think everything they have already told you before attempting it. A liar can almost never do it. Liars also seldom veer from their original presentation at all which can be telling in any negotiation.

And now for something, completely different

A liar will always try to change the subject or deflect a direct question. You think everything is going well until they say something like, “Yeah, so I was going to – wow, is that a new outfit? It looks great!”Liars will also often repeat sentences and/or mumble and keep looking at the floor. A great deflection in a negotiation is not to really answer the question.Liars will say something like, “I love my job and this company.Why would I have bashed the hell out of the Coke machine?”

Is silence really golden?

There is an old sales and negotiation adage that states the first one to talk, loses. In the case of lying, it seems to hold up. Most Liars hate silences and rush to fill the void with rambling. So, interject some silence and see if some inane babbling ensues.

The eyes have it?

The eyes offer subtle clues. A liar’s blink rate increases, their gaze gets shifty and unfocused and liars either don’t look you in the eye or make a determined effort to look you in the eye too much. Liars can more easily control their words but not their unconscious non-verbal leaks.

Activate the shields, Scotty!

Some final physical signs of lying that tend to give someone away in a negotiation can range anywhere from swallowing too much and biting their lip to sweet talking you while their head is shaking “no”. A liar will also try to put up some sort of barrier between you as a defensive posture. They will cross their arms and legs, point their feet toward the nearest exit, or place something between you like a table or a chair or even a desk stapler.

Lying, it seems, is a tricky thing for we humans. We seem to abhor it but will actually approve of it in a subconscious and covert manner. So, keep some of the above pointers in mind the next time you are engaged in a high level negotiation, a job interview or salary discussion, or if you think your first date is just trying to impress you.

Really. I mean, would I lie to you?

* Additional research included findings from studies conducted by: The Science Museum of London, The Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology, and PsychTests.com.

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