A How-To Guide on Lie-Proofing Your World
Deception, and its detection, are a bigger part of life than you may consciously realize. More so if you negotiate business deals, hire people, work in law enforcement, or have a significant other.
You will be lied to between ten and 200 times today. Strangers lie an average of three times within ten minutes of meeting each other. Coworkers and married couples lie during one of every ten interactions. (Unmarried couples lie three times as often.) Children start lying before they can talk, and never stop. Even your pets are lying to you.
We love Kindle, but if you enjoy making everyone around you nervous—after all, they’ve probably lied between ten and 200 times today—get a hardcopy of Pamela Meyer’s Liespotting, so they can see what you’re reading.
What you may not realize is that even the best, most deliberate liars give themselves away with various facial, verbal, or physical tics that trained interrogator consider obvious. Casual liars are even more transparent.
If you pay attention, you will start seeing the truth.
How Do I Spot a Liar?
Short answer? Look in the mirror.
Long answer: Liars tend to display dozens of different “tells,” which include facial expressions, physical gestures, and verbal gymnastics. But you don’t need to spot every lie.
Most lies are so-called white lies, which serve to keep civilization from collapsing. Where would we be without “Your email must have gone straight to my spam folder,” “No, sweetie, you look great in those jeans,” and “Of course I know how to use Photoshop”?
Friendless, divorced, and unemployed. And probably living in a Mad Max-style, post-nuclear wasteland.
This is why humans display a “truth bias,” the tendency to believe almost everything we hear. We are social animals, and lies keep things running smoothly. So Meyer, like your brain, is happy to let the white lies stand.
The other 10% of lies, however, negatively affect you, your relationships, your business, and your country. The USA alone loses some $200 billion in fraud every year. Happily, these high-stakes, nefarious, and deliberately deceptive lies make the liar nervous, which makes them easy to spot. If you know what you’re looking for.
First, however, you need to break through your own personal “truth bias” to see them.
Meyer explains, in this three-minute video, why she wrote the book: so laypeople can learn to spot lies as easily as police officers and other professionals.
How Liars Give Themselves Away
It takes an enormous amount of energy to maintain a serious lie, much more energy than simply remembering the truth. So liars slip, and they generally do so in predictable ways.
Meyers reminds her readers that honest people display every single one of those behaviors as well. Not everyone is comfortable with eye contact.
So, rather than look for a single tic, you should look for clusters of behaviors. This works better if you familiarize yourself with the “baseline” behavior of your spouse, friends, and coworkers. If you know how they act when they’re telling the truth, you’ll be able to spot the difference when they lie.
There’s even a handy worksheet in the back of the book where you can take notes on each person’s normal behavior in low-stress situations, from their blink rate to the types and amount of fidgeting they normally display.
She sees this attention to detail as common courtesy, rather than paranoia: “Being a good leader and manager is not just about getting business done, but about making sure that the people who work with you know that you notice them.” Whether you use the worksheet or not, you will probably find yourself baselining people automatically after you read the book.
Your next step is to look for those clusters of suspicious behaviors. Meyers discusses some of the most important red flags in her top-rated, 19-minute Ted Talk.
Our favorite bit was when Koko the gorilla blamed her pet cat for pulling a sink out of the wall. Lying is in our DNA.
Meyer divides these into three broad categories of slips: Facial expressions, body language, and verbal tics. It’s worth reading the book for a more comprehensive introduction to the field of lie detection, as it’s well written and filled with anecdotes that make the subject matter memorable.
You probably already know how to spot a fake smile—the eyes don’t crinkle. You may also know that people who want to escape a conversation subconsciously point their feet away, often toward the door.
But there are so many more tells to look out for. For example, people often freeze their upper bodies while telling a lie, or put objects (purses, desk clutter) in between themselves and the person to whom they are lying.
When people tell the truth, they tend to start with the crux of the story, followed by a jumble of details. When telling a lie, however, they put the events in strict chronological order, with unusual amounts of detail in the prologue, a surprisingly anticlimactic main event, and no epilogue.
People also avoid contractions when lying (“did not” instead of “didn’t”) and tend to distance themselves from the subject of the lie (“that woman”).
That’s just the beginning.
You’ve Spotted the Lie. Now, How Do You Get to the Truth?
At some point, you’ll be almost sure that the person you are talking to is lying. Often, that’s good enough. You can just walk away from the deal, relationship, or situation. Other times, however, you’ll need to know the truth. That’s where it gets tricky.
Meyers uses the “BASIC Interview Method,” which combines lie-spotting techniques with truth-telling tips. For example, asking open-ended questions will usually get you closer to the truth.
Remember, lying is hard work. If you ask a simple yes/no question, for example, “Did you embezzle those funds,” they only have to lie for a split second: “No.”
Open-ended questions make them work for it. “So, what did you do with the receipts at that point? And after you put them in the envelope, where did you go?” After a while, the effort of lying takes a toll, and most people start to make mistakes.
She also suggests taking the liar out of chronological order: “Let’s go back to the morning before you got the receipts. What were you doing? Where did you go for coffee?” An elaborate tale memorized in chronological order will start to fall apart.
Meyer also warns you to be aware of what you don’t know about the story. Otherwise, your brain will tend to fill in the gaps with that warm, fuzzy truth bias. Or, tell the potential liar that the interview is over, then watch carefully. Do they seem relieved? That’s another red flag.
It’s easier, however, to get to the truth by avoiding the lie in the first place. Most people want to tell the truth, but lies are such an intrinsic part of our society and culture that they fall into falsehoods almost without thinking about it.
For example, people are conditioned to believe that it’s normal to lie on a job application, during business negotiations or on a dating profile. They think that if they don’t, someone else will get the prize. They may want to be a better worker, or parent, or partner, so they lie to fill the gap between who they are and the person they want to be. They want to protect a coworker. They want to seem more desirable. The subconscious rationale for lying is almost infinite.
Once you understand the reasons why good people feel the need to lie, it becomes easier to guide them toward the truth.
Building Your Brain Trust
As an aside, if you look at the book reviews on Amazon.com, a lot of people complain that the last sections of the book are “fluff” or “filler.” That’s probably because they had hoped use Meyer’s techniques to grill a spouse or a friend, and these techniques are certainly useful if that’s your goal. But, Meyer is more concerned with liars in your professional life.
Which brings us to the final portion of the book, “Building Your Brain Trust.”
This could be a separate book entirely, and has little to do with lie detection. Meyer—a Harvard MBA with a star-studded résumé that includes top positions at National Geographic and the Ford Foundation—discusses you how to build an amazing professional network.
Which obviously isn’t particularly useful if you want to know if your husband is cheating on you. Most of Chainsaw’s readers, however, are concerned with professional growth. Which means that you will love this chapter, as Meyer clearly has top-notch networking skills. It’s like getting two books for the price of one!
Yes. It’s a quick read, well written, and packed with information and strategies that you can put to use tomorrow. We recommend watching the Ted Talk to decide if you like her style and focus, then heading to your library or favorite book seller to pick up a copy.
There’s extensive literature on lie detection, however, and many books and websites may be better suited to your personality, or specific concerns. It’s well worth investigating the art and science of lie detection before moving forward in almost any endeavor.
Like us, you may find yourself wishing that you had learned more about liespotting years ago.