It is very easy to get caught up in trying to spot a liar by looking for clues to deception. That just makes sense. While there are hundreds of possible cues to deception, many of which I have addressed on this blog, the best strategy to consistently catch a liar is to look for the opposite- the truth.
Indicators of truthfulness are easier to spot than indicators of deception. The key is to understand when there is an obvious lack of truthful indicators. This is when you will see all those signs of deception. In this article, I will point out some strategies to observe honesty. Only in the absence of truth, will lies be revealed!
1. Smooth gestures. This one is a favorite of mine. When someone is talking or explaining something, the accompanying gestures, known in body language circles as “illustrators” are smooth and well timed. Their intensity matches the spoken word. A well timed gesture usually begins right before the spoken word. If there is a delay after the spoken word and then the gesture comes, the timing is off. The emotion might not be genuine. If gestures are mechanical and stiff, they are more than likely manufactured and not genuine.
2. The expression. I have seen this one in high stakes situations. While accusing a liar, the liar will often be expressionless. His mind is on how he will respond. The accusations do not offend him, because they are true (and he likely has already rationalized and justified his deception). An innocent person, however, will show emotion at the onset of the accusation. Real emotion. I had to terminate an employee for his involvement with selling illegal drugs. As I explained the undeniable evidence against him, he stood there emotionless. He offered weak denials. Most people would be outraged at losing a job for something they didn’t do, much less being falsely accused of being a drug dealer! I was sure of the evidence prior to the discussion, but I still wanted to be thorough. Later in the discussion, I accused him of something I knew he didn’t do- theft. He became irate and extremely agitated. The difference was significant. He didn’t steal and that prompted a true, emotional and strong denial. The accusation of selling drugs did not. Game. Set. Match.
3. FPPTSD. First person, past tense, singular denial. This one is a good indicator of honesty. Deny the conclusion, deny the charge.
“They haven’t arrested me because they don’t have any evidence and they never will because I did not do it.”
-Richard Jewell, falsely accused Olympic bomber
I once investigated a theft case where an employee was accused of stealing expensive electronics. He reportedly had taken a flat screen TV home. When I asked him about the television, he stated “we got rid of it, it didn’t work”. Everything up to that point in his story had been “I”. There was no “we”. When it came to his denial, it wasn’t singular. This was his way of sharing blame. Listen to any politician. When his administration does something good, you will hear a lot of “I” and “Me”. When things go bad, listen for “We”, and “Us”.
A truthful denial will look or sound something like: “I didn’t do it” or “I didn’t steal the purse.” The denials are direct. The further away from this the denial gets, the more it needs to be scrutinized.
I will discuss more indicators of truth, but these are a good place to start. For an outstanding resource on body language and deception detection, visit http://www.bodylanguagelearning.org.uk/ this site has articles from some highly respected experts in the non-verbal field. Check it out!