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Deborah Jane Willimott

Deborah Jane Willimott

June 30, 2015


How to Spot a Liar

Gut instinct is important when it comes to calling out the BS’ers in your office, but there are some strategies that can help sniff out the truth-stretchers among you. “Simply being more visually perceptive in the workplace and knowing how to promote honesty in employees and clients are priceless office skills—and easily mastered,” states Judi James, author of The Body Language Bible. Here’s how.

Mingle with the little people. “Shrewd bosses have excellent ‘social intelligence,’” explains James. “And they get this by regularly integrating with employees and observing how they show enthusiasm, annoyance, stress, and anger. It’ll not only fine-tune your ability to read human emotions, but it also creates a handy baseline for you to compare against when having to read those same employees trying to conceal feelings.” The same goes for clients—so do more sitting and observing at meetings and dinners.

Read the signals. “There are textbook signs of truth-stretching,” says Judy. “Someone (who’s usually verbal) suddenly e-mailing. Dropping eye contact (usually at the moment of the lie). Or suddenly becoming vague about subjects they know a lot about: ‘The Prentice account that someone screwed up yesterday? Ummm, I think I know the one…’” Behavioral changes are also important—fiddling with something is a sign someone’s concealing, but if the person’s a habitual fiddler and they’re sitting uncharacteristically still, that’s even more noteworthy.

Give ’em enough rope. When someone’s BS’ing, we instinctively try and fill the uncomfortable silences. “Don’t,” says James. “Let them talk… And then just wait.” The silence often prompts BS’ers to keep talking, and that’s when a truth tumbles out. And if something whiffs of fib, try repeating that aspect of their story back to them, adding: “Is this what you’re saying?” “It’s powerful,” says James. “People happily breeze out stretched truths as part of a sentence, but few will barefacedly lie, which is what this tactic asks them to do.”

Make them comfortable. If you suspect a lie, the simplest way to it is to get the perp to fess up unconsciously. “When discussing the touchy subject, very subtly adopt one or two of their gestures,” explains James. “Then start to make your gestures more open and they will unconsciously start copying you. These gestures will relax them and they’ll drop their guard. This is when you ask your key questions and they will be more revealing than they mean to.”

And a small caveat here: None of this is covert or sneaky as long as you do what all good bosses should do anyway: address the truths you uncover with balanced management, good judgment, and fairness. And it doesn’t hurt to master a Clooney-esque knowing look, either.