» The traits of a liar

The traits of a liar

October 14, 2010 by Valerie Helmbreck
Posted in: In this week's e-newsletter, Latest News & Views, Lifestyle

In what’s being called the “post truth society,” it can be tough to run a business if you can’t spot lies and and the lying liars who tell them. Even technologists haven’t come up with a foolproof device that can separate the honest folks from the fibbers. But there is some low-tech help.

Certified fraud examiner and Harvard M.B.A., Pamela Meyer, has created something of a primer on how to spot folks who have an uneasy relationship with the truth. In her book, “Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception, “Meyer has gathered a vast body of research into a single volume that’s designed to help business leaders and the folks who work with them to ferret out deception in the workplace.

Meyer says she hasn’t found one industry that has more liars than any other, but she does make some assumptions about the kind of people who are more prone to making things up. Extroverts and gregarious people seem to be more inclined to fabricate stories, she says.

She also believes that there’s an epidemic of lying going on these days and that the practice doesn’t elicit nearly the outrage it once did.

Politicians, leaders of industry, even clergy people seem to be willing to lie straight-faced and without remorse.

Meyer has created a list of verbal and nonverbal cues that are easily spotted in liars, and its a fascinating spotlight on human behavior.

The nonverbal cues  include an almost freezing of the liar’s upper body when being untruthful. Liars, Meyers asserts, rehearse their verbal story, and they fail to practice gestures and body language to accompany it. They will also look down, lower their voice, and slow their breathing and blink rate. When the interview ends, they will exhibit a recognizable moment of relief. Interrogators will often end an interview prematurely just to look for that shift in posture and relaxation.

Verbally, liars tend to precision and avoid contractions (preferring “I did not” to “I didn’t,” for instance.) They also tend to pepper their story with inappropriate detail in their fervor to convince the listener of the truth of their tale of events or circumstances. They will look the listener in the eye too much, trying to appear honest, when in fact most people telling the truth only look you in the eye a comfortable 60 % of the time.

And finally, a liar will tend to tell you their story in exact chronological order — the way they’ve created it. Honest people order their stories in order of emotional importance and will tell you the most important things first. One trick to catching  liar is to try and get them to tell you their story backwards. They usually can’t do it.

Read more about Meyer’s work here.


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