Actions speak louder than words, but words whisper unintended secrets

A popular and correct saying in deception detection is that if the body language does not match the spoken language, believe the body language.  When adhering to this advice, do not mistake it for “ignoring” the spoken language.  Many times people will say exactly what they mean.  But while they are saying exactly what they mean, they may be inferring something else completely. 

For example:

“I think the true Packer backers, which there are tons out there, feel the same way.”

– Brett Favre on the controversy surrounding his returning to Green Bay for the ceremonial retirement of his Packers Jersey.

Favre specifically states that he thinks the true fans feel the same way. Favre doesn’t say that he knows the fans admire him, only that he “thinks” it.  He is accidentally admitting there are fans that do not like him because he played for the rival Minnesota Vikings after defecting from Green Bay.  Favre,however, would like us to believe that the fans still admire him, but this is not what he says.  Additionally, he qualified his statement with the use of “true” and “which there are tons out there”.  The bottom line is that Favre likely knows that he gave many Packers fans a real reason to dislike him.

Many times, a person will give us the response to a question that sounds like it answers the question, but all in reality it avoids it.  Depending on the context of the conversation and the nature of the relationship of those involved, the follow up to the avoidance response is vital in order to get the true information that was sought with the initial question.

For example:

You submit your report to your boss:

You: “What do you think of my report?”

Boss: “You did a great job.”

The boss did not answer the question.  The question was “What do you think of my report?”. The answer, therefore, should have contained the personal pronoun “I” , as in “I think it is great“.  This probably means the boss is not being entirely forthcoming and deserves a follow up clarification.

You: “Thank you, but is there anything about the report that I can improve on or add?”

Now, you have put the ball back in the boss’ corner. Additionally, you have phrased your challenge in a cooperative manner rather than a confrontational manner.  This allows the boss to provide her true feelings and offer constructive criticism that will benefit you and the company going forward.

It is important to understand that in many situations when people lie to us they are being polite and thinking about our feelings.  They may be avoiding confrontation, or they may just not be that interested in having a discussion, in which case telling you what you want to hear is the easiest way out.  And, of course, there are the malicious liars who are out to harm you for their own benefit.  Regardless of the lie, or the intent behind it, listening to exactly what a person is saying and evaluating what they say in empirical terms, without inferring anything, will give you insight into what it is they really mean and lead to you conduct proper follow up questions.

Combining evaluative listening skills and observing body language can vastly improve your odds of finding the truth.  Don’t jump to conclusions and use appropriate follow up strategies.  If you do this, you will find yourself getting the big picture of what it is that people are truly saying.




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