Well. This single word can be a powerful indicator. Whatever comes next is not always going to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help you God.
The use of “well” is a verbal pause. It gives the speaker time to formulate his response. It is an easy to spot indicator that the speaker may intend to hedge, which means he will not be forthright. “Well” is especially alarming in response to a yes/no question or closed question. For example:
Q: Lacy’s wallet is missing from her purse. She left it in the break room earlier. Do you know anything about it?
A: Well, what time was it taken?
This is alarming. As always, context is the key! The speaker is often equivocating, which is dishonest. When speaking truthfully, we generally don’t need to formulate a response, as the truth is usually right there, ready to go. Creating this “gap” in conversation is also known as “response latency”. Researchers have studied nonverbal aspects of linguistic behavior and found many cues can be sensitive cues of discrepancy. Fluency, dominance, formality cues, time spent talking, response latency and other cues are reliable in helping to differentiate true from false statements (Buller et al,1994).
Keep in mind, the most common type of lie is the lie of omission. This is when you don’t tell a direct lie, but instead choose to leave particular information out, which helps you manipulate the perception of the listener.
Also, it is very common to follow the “well” with a redirect. Question the questioner.
“Well, what would you do?”
“Well, it’s not like you haven’t made mistakes.”
And so on..
Quite often these redirects will come in lieu of a direct answer to the question you asked. When this happens it is a strong indicator the topic is extremely sensitive. People release information in order of least sensitive to most sensitive. They will often be very reluctant to give up the last piece of information. Why? It’s simple. They are trying to construct and maintain a false reality. The last, most sensitive lie, is the one that brings that reality crashing down.
One of the main motivations of many liars, is to make themselves look better. That is a tough reality to let go- to let another person see you for who you really are. Sprinkle in the added humiliation of becoming a known liar and there you have it- a strong reason to keep the lie alive as long as possible.
Listen for the word, “well” in response to a question that requires a clear yes or no. You will often find the information that follows is either outright false, or incomplete. Either way, ask yourself “what are they hiding?”
It is important to note, that many times a person will pause to shape an honest answer as well. Again, context is the key. The main thing to understand about the use of the word “well” is that what comes next is important to listen to. Response latency, as earlier mentioned, has a high correlation with false statements (McDaniel & Timm, 1990). This should lead you to pay close attention to the response and evaluate further to determine if you are dealing with an honest person.