How to catch a liar

catch a liar

Okay, I know what you are thinking – How can I be an expert in this?! You need special training to catch a liar!

I bet this kind of thing should come to you from an expert like an FBI agent or a criminal psychologist.

Well, not many know about my profession and the nuances that come along with being a seafarer. For us, seasons change faster than you would imagine. Over a couple of months, I have traveled from China to Korea, from Basra, Iraq to Suez, Egypt, from Saudi Arabia to the United States. Over the course of my career, I have sailed with people from India, the Philippines, Koreans, Vietnamese, Indonesians, Burmese, Nigerians, Angolans, Ghanaians, Ukrainians, Russians, Yugoslavians, and Pakistanis. People are different everywhere and yet, there are certain things which I can tell you, remains universal. One such thing is :-

People lie

Statistically, about 90% of the people lie on their first dates, 40% lie to their friends, 80% have lied in a job interview and 50% lie to their bosses regularly.

We are not trained to catch a liar, or trained in judging micro expressions,expressive inconsistencies or in deception science as such, and yet you would be surprised as to how keenly our subconscious mind observes people. The gut often just knows when a person is dishonest. To catch a liar often all you need is just your gut feel.

People lie to each other every day. Not every lie is meant towards a criminal intent or to cover a serious crime such as money laundering or terrorism.

You may be lying to your boss, your office clerk, your squad leader, your teacher, your parents or spouse. There are lies which are trying to save you from humiliation, from spending some money or helping you get away with office stationery, do tax fraud or smoke without the knowledge of your wife. There are white lies which you think would hide the bitter truth and save the other person from pain or those which keep your conscience clear. At times it is the necessary evil and the skills to catch a liar is just not necessary at times. People lie to their children with the intent of hiding the bitter reality, or to avoid an awkward question. We come across so many deceptive situations every day, that we have all become experts in deceiving ourselves. The morality behind a deception is not my topic here. I do not feel qualified to talk about that.

But as the master of a ship, in my own desolate island, I run a show. I am the office Boss and I am the FBI over there – I am the sole discretionary authority to run things my way. Doing this has taught me certain valuable methods of detecting a lie. My experience may not help out people in the world of criminology who are definitely far more trained than me, but it sure can assist those who run a show like me, to catch a liar in day to day life. You should be able to read your employees if you are their Boss. That does not mean they should never lie to you, at times it makes your job easier.

But just how prepared are we to catch someone in the act of lying?

In a day to day environment when you are expected to run the show, it helps to know a few defined traits which are displayed by people lying to you.

catch a liar

Telltale signs to Catch a liar – Myths against reality

  1. Myth: A liar is nervous and anxious (the anxiety hypothesis)

The first premise is that a liar will display signs of anxiety, with sweaty palms, squirm in their seats, and move from foot to foot if standing. Well, all those may be true for an untrained criminal who has just robbed a bank, or person in front of a jury in the courtroom who has sworn on the Bible, to tell the truth, but for people in their daily lives, lying comes much more naturally than that.

Truth: The Darwinian theory of evolution has prevailed to make today’s everyday liars so immune to their lies that they do not strike them as wrong. A person who is trying to sneak out a smoke does not feel bad when he makes excuses to his wife, rather he gets a slight ego boost every time he is not caught. You do not blink when you make excuses for not getting your girlfriend that necklace which she wanted (too expensive – or scared of things going too fast maybe?).

Let’s take it a notch higher than that. For a person who is spending time outside of his house just because he hates coming back, there is going to be perfectly okay making excuses for it. Someone who is doing tax fraud for years confidently lies in his documents and never even thinks twice. No matter how bad we feel the first time, once we get used to the lie, every successfully pulled off deception gives us an ego-boost preparing us for the next one with increased vigor and enthusiasm. It’s much like winning a poker game, which satisfies you instead of making you feel guilty or anxious. It makes you happy and rather calms you down. To catch a liar, do not focus on the nervous ones only, the calm ones are more trained in deception.

  1. Myth: A liar skips or forgets details.Did you ever think that the occasional liar will skip essential details when he is making up a story?

Truth: On the contrary, one of the distinguished features of a natural liar is that he adds too many details. Look out for people who tells you something like “I was at the grocery store, saw the young salesman with a blue shirt trying to convince me to buy that vacuum cleaner, and then as I was walking out I tripped over on that flower pot, and there were six cars in the parking lot, one blue car right next to mine…”

To catch a liar, the abnormal inclusion of useless details must be noted. They are the prime indications of deceitful behavior. The person is a bit too well planned to remember all those unnecessary details for no reason.

  1. Myth: A liar is necessarily jittery and avoids eye contact: We might think that abnormal behavior which manifests in a liar is necessarily jittery and shaky attitudes.

Truth: There will be certain physical abnormalities associated with a person who is lying and is excited or scared about it. These will be especially pronounced when they are cornered. If a person steals office stationery every day he can be quite relaxed while refusing the blame, but if you ask him specifically in front of a group and indicate to him that you know he is the one, he is bound to get agitated in fear or public shame. However, this fear may manifest itself in different ways.

Establish a baseline:  Before you attempt to catch a liar, ask him something insignificant over which you know he won’t lie. Notice his reactions when he is speaking the truth. Now you have your baseline. Deviation from the baseline may mean he is tensed – which means he might be concealing something or lying about something. Our mind picks up these subtle indicators even if we do not consciously.

Note the baseline traits: A person who is always anxious may become calmer than usual. A person who speaks fast may start speaking slower, someone who looks at you while talking starts looking down or unknowingly nodding his head for a “NO” while he is saying “Yes”, and so on. Any abnormal agitation might mean deceit, but it can also mean that the person is simply more excited or scared about being questioned. If someone is giving shorter than expected replies, waiting too long before they start.

catch a liar

  1. Other traits of liars: again, not every one of them may be applicable to everyone.
    1. Distancing from the lie: by using words like “Him” and “they” instead of “I” or “ME”
    2. They can try to distract or divert a question using something completely different, e.g. a question of their own.
      1. Did you download the files?

Ans. How can you say that? I was here till seven and I were on the project my Boss gave me. I had to do it by yesterday. It was John’s project, our biggest client. I was doing his job and I can show you,”

See how the topic was diverted into things he wanted to say?

  1. Deviation from baseline means they can give long rambling answers, cover their mouth when they speak or laugh, look down a lot, etc. as long as all this does not match with their baseline character trait.
  2. Try to change topics faster than usual.

5.    Myth:People lie only when they speak to you.

 Truth: Well, comprehensive data is available for most these kind of things. There are several research scientists who through their quirky experiments, have deciphered several interesting data regarding this kind of things.

Among all different forms of communication, people lie most on Telephone calls. About 37% pf the people lie over the phone, especially when talking to a person of the opposite sex.

27% people lie over a face to face conversation, about 21% of text messages and merely 14% of emails. This might be because emails are the closest to any form of documentation that we have in today’s world. Most people are scared of committing a lie on paper.

When you run an organization for a while, these and many other concepts combine in your mind without your knowledge; they give you that ‘sixth sense’ which makes you ‘feel’ that someone is not being truthful. Learn to believe such instinctive thinking which we all have. It is usually right.

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