The why of the lie

Everybody lies. It is something that we do from being a small child right the way through our lives. We adapt our behaviours and speech to get something we want. As we move towards adulthood we become more and more adept at deception, and as a result, more frequent as liars.
We are even taught to lie and lied to by our parents. “When Auntie Violet gives you your birthday present look happy and say you like it very much”; “If you don’t stop misbehaving the policeman will come and take you away.”; “Father Christmas is watching you and if you are bad you will not get any presents for Christmas.”

Some studies have indicated that the average person can lie around eight times in a twenty minute conversation, but how do we define a lie?

Ekman defines as lie as “A deliberate attempt to mislead without prior consent.” Breaking this down gives some clarity. A deliberate attempt – There has to be intent to deceive. If we repeat a lie told to us by someone else does it still remain a lie? Incorrect information passed on is not a lie, unless the person passing that information on is aware that it is inaccurate. If you believe the information you are passing on, there is no intent to deceive.
Actor and magicians lie to us all the time. The actor pretends to be someone he or she is not. This is surely a lie. They know they are not the person they are portraying, and they are doing their best to make us believe they are. This is where consent comes in. The actor calls it “suspension of disbelief.” The very act of going to a play, watching a movie, or seeing a stage magician is implied consent to be deceived. The audience all know that Anthony Hopkins is not Hannibal Lecter but we accept him in that role.

What about little white lies.
“How are you today?”
“I’m fine, thanks”

We tell this type of lie all the time and there is always something of consent to be deceived about them. This question is a social lubricant allowing the smooth transition of a social interaction. If we translate that question and answer into what it really means:
“I am asking you how you are, but I don’t actually want to know, I am just engaging conversation or being polite to reinforce our interactions or move this conversation forward to the real subject.”
“I know you are being social and have no interest in my well being at the moment, so I will lie to you so we can move this conversation forward or accept that you are somebody that I will engage with socially at a later time.”

Two people just lied to each other and probably didn’t even consider that they were lies. But what would happen if you change the context. What if the question is being asked by a Psychiatrist and the respondent is a patient on suicide watch? There would be no implied consent for deception, indeed a failure to pick up on a lie in this case could detrimental to the well being of the patient.

Next time you are asked a question examine your response. Have you just told a lie, and what was the motive for doing so? Social lubrication, personal gain, avoiding punishment or to protect someone else?

In my area of expertise, it is not when someone lies, it is why?

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Now how are you going to act? The Interview.

One of the most common questions that anyone in non-verbal communications gets asked is “How should I act at an interview?”

My response is usually that you shouldn’t be acting at all.  Though I appreciate this is not what they were really getting at.  Though it is something that is worth bearing in mind.

When you go for an interview you would expect that the person interviewing you would be honest with you, answer your questions truthfully and give you a real understanding of what the new job role would be about “warts and all”.  Would it not be fair to extend them the same courtesy?  When someone is looking for a person to fill a role they need to make sure they are getting the right person for the job.  If someone decided to fib on their application or at interview, you would not have been honest with your prospect employer, but most certainly you would not have been honest with yourself.  You may even end up accepted into a role that you are just not suited for and out of your depth.

It is obvious that the real question should be, “How do I give the best impression of myself at interview?”   That is a different story.  Here are some hints and tips, by no means an exhaustive list but food for thought.

  • Everyone gets nervous at an interview.  When there is a risk involved anxiety is heightened, and in applying for a job you have a risk element to it.  Fail to impress and you will go away with out the job, you will have missed out on a chance at personal gain.  Try and look at thinks objectively.  If you are not successful at interview you are in no worse position that you are at the moment.  I am not suggesting you are completely blasé about things but accept things for what they are don’t focus on the ifs and buts.
  • Offer you hand to the interviewer on first meeting them and greet them by name if at all possible.  Make sure you have had an opportunity to dry your hands before meeting.  Sweaty palms are not pleasant and watching someone rub their hands on their clothes to dry them is a sure give away of nerves.
  • Wait until you are invited to sit before doing so.  Sit with a good posture, but not too rigid and face the interviewer directly.  Turning to the side is a defensive posture and can make you seem closed.  If you are feeling nervous you can subtly adjust your posture to the side, this should help you feel more comfortable but take care not to over-extend this.
  • Try not to fidget.  This makes you look very nervous or like a five-year old in need of the toilet.  Focus on your body in a way that does not detract from what you are doing in the interview.   Fold your hands loosely with your fingers laced together in your lap with your thumbs pressed together.  This is a good neutral posture and should give you a focus, it will also reduce the chance of excessive manipulators being shown.  Be warned though, leaning forward and putting your hands on the desk is a territorial display.
  • Regulate your breathing.  When we are emotionally aroused our respiration rate tends to increase.  This can become very obvious when you are speaking, making your conversation stilted and even slightly asthmatic.  If you are prone to this behaviour, pause and take a slow breath before starting to speak.  Take care not to over emphasise this pause though.  I saw a very bad example of this behaviour during the recent interviews with a certain Media Mogul.  Over extend the pauses and you come off as either disinterested or clueless.
  • Taking a more relaxed posture can help reduce some of the tension, this is fine to do as the interview progresses, but remember to stay attentive.   Being upright and rigid can come across as very tense.  If the chair has arms lean one elbow on the arm and drop the shoulder slightly.  This will give you a much more relaxed look and will also make you feel more relaxed with it.
  • Don’t be afraid of using illustrators, but don’t fabricate them.  Remember a genuine illustrator has a tempo that matches the speech and underlines or emphasises phrases in the speech.   Let them flow naturally but don’t let them get out of control.

Remember, most interviewers will be expecting you to be nervous anyway, so a little trepidation is fine, as long as you are not a gibbering pile of nerves and sinew.  Also consider that these are very general guidelines and should be suitable for most situations.  However, a sales role may expect you to be far more aggressive in your attitude and posture, and confident in your delivery.

Also consider that even if you don’t get past this interview it is a chance to learn and practice, and always thank your interviewer for their time and part with a handshake.

 

The Truth

Terry Pratchett stated in his book ‘The Truth’, “A lie can get around the world before the truth has its boots on!”

From our earliest years, right from the moment we start to communicate (from as young as 6 months old it is believed) we develop the ability to deceive.  There are so many reasons to lie:  to protect ourselves, to protect others, for some personal gain or to spare someone’s feelings.  But is there ever a reason that a lie could be justified?  Could the motives for the lie excuse the lie itself? And can we always be sure someone is telling the truth?

Firstly, let us remember one of the key tenets of the lie catcher:  There is no single indicator for a lie.  What you do get are hints and pointers that something might not be quite right, what Dr Ekman calls ‘hotspots’.  Individually these do not indicate a lie, merely that there is something happening that justifies a further investigation.  When you put these hotspots together you get a clearer picture that something is leaking out that they may be trying to keep hidden.  Again this may not be a lie, just something they don’t specifically want you to know.

Lies contain thoughts and feelings, but in order to make a lie work a lot of thought needs to take place.  This extra work is often called cognitive load; when your mind is heavily focussed on thinking, feeling starts to show through, and the feelings shown may not match the story being told.  This is emotional leakage.  The more consequential the lie, the more likely you are to leak information.

Paul Ekman tried a number of experiments around lying and detecting lies.  How people lie and looking for that holy grail of a sign of lying.   Needless to say he didn’t find his single indicator, but did find some other interesting facts.   His experiments initially were flawed, he realised quickly that people being asked to tell a lie in a lab setting had no consequence to their lie and as such were more difficult to detect.

When a lie has no consequence to it or a risk in its discovery, the emotional load is reduced.  The makes is much harder to spot.  The risk could be personal such as a loss of liberty or freedom, a risk to health or even personal gain.  If a lie doesn’t matter it may not show unless someone’s own personal moral compass is set in such a way that lies are considered taboo.

In order to increase the tension in the situation Dr. Ekman added some factors to the test.  He offered financial reward if they could successfully get a lie past him.  He left his students in a room with an envelope that contained a sum of money.  He told them that they could take the money or leave it.  If they took the money they would have to convince him that they hadn’t.  If they were successful they would get to keep the cash.  Secondly he also told them at the start of their interview that he would be able to tell when they were lying and he has never failed.  He had just increased the apprehension about being caught and there was a financial risk in place.   Suddenly the emotional leakage increased and the lies became significantly more obvious.

To detect a lie you increase the chances when there is some risk to the liar.

People also find it more difficult to lie convincingly if they have an emotional connection to the subject of the lie.  Dr. Ekman further emphasised this with another experiment with another study group.  The group was told to describe a pleasant scene that they saw on a film.  Half of the group were shown a film of flowers and gardens and asked to describe what they saw.  The second group was shown a film of a rather involved surgical procedure but were still asked to describe a scene of flowers and gardens.

In the experiment nearly all the people asked to lie were spotted.  They all leaked a very fast, subtle expression of disgust despite their more over demeanour of happiness.

We know that someone who feels no emotional connection to the subject and fears no consequence of being discovered is more likely to escape their lie being discovered.  This is also one of the failings of the lie detector test or as it is more properly known the Polygraph.  Lie detector itself is a misnomer as it does not detect lies.  What it does measure are changes in the Autonomous Nervous System.  Heart rate, body temperature, respiration and perspiration.  All of these are signs of Emotional Arousal, not lies. Fear of being discovered and fear of being disbelieved look exactly the same.  Excitement and fear look very similar to the polygraph.  The advantage of the human over any machine so far created is we can determine the emotion being felt and probe appropriately.

Some people say that the eyes are a good sign of a liar, that they will avert their eyes from you while they are lying.  Others maintain that a liar is more likely to hold your gaze to see if a lie has been believed.  At the moment there have been no confirmed studies that prove one way or the other, regardless of what the body language books tell you.

There are also other theories that rubbing the nose is a sign of a lie.  Again not strictly true.  The nose contains erectile tissue that expands when extra blood flows to it.  This happens during moment of emotional arousal causing it to tingle.  The key here is emotional arousal not lie. and you need to understand what emotions are causing this any why.

A lot of body language books put great store in illustrators and manipulators.  Illustrators are the visual punctuations to verbal statements.  The visual way of exclaiming and underlining.  Think back to the film footage of Adolf Hitler’s speeches.  He used a lot of illustrators.   When speaking from memory or something you passionately believe in illustrators tend to be visible.  When cognitive load increased illustrators tend to decrease.  Again not necessarily a sign of a lie, just that a lot of though it going on.

Manipulators are the comforting gestures.  Many exponents of body language cite these as reliable signs that someone is uncomfortable.  Yes they do appear more with discomfort; however, they are very easily controlled and suspended.  They can be reduced with very little effort.

A lie can sometimes be very difficult to spot because as Sir Terry said, it can get around the world before it has its boots on.  Detecting a lie can take time and patience compounded by the fact that most of us are biased to accept what we are told as truth.