Three good tricks for catching out liars
The world is filled with liars. We all tell porkies to some degree in order to get what we want. Of course, some people lie more often than others.
Being able to hide our true intentions is useful in all sorts of areas of life - business, love, career, friendships. That's why children learn how to deceive so early on. In fact, studies have shown that the more intelligent a child is, the more likely they are to tell untruths.
All of us have to negotiate this minefield of misinformation. Being tricked by a lie can lead to big disadvantages. It can cost us money, time, opportunity and many other things. Because of this, it's useful to be able to catch liars out.
Some people are excellent deceivers. So good that they make a living out of misleading others. Here are a few good tricks for uncovering them.
Look for what motivates a person
If you really want to understand someone, you need to discover what motivates them. Once you have an idea of what someone wants out of life, you have a pretty good shot of figuring out how they're going to behave in a particular situation. When people are focussed on a specific outcome, that drive can be so powerful that it's difficult not to give it away.
One method of figuring out a person's motivation is to look at the position they're in: a criminal is probably motivated by escaping punishment, an investment banker is probably motivated by a lust for money, a serial womanizer is obviously motivated by sex, and a doting mother is motivated by love for her children.
You can learn a lot about someone just by examining the station in life they've chosen.
There's another useful method you can add on top of this for discovering what incentives a person is pursuing - look at their behavior. How a person acts in certain situations tells you a lot about what drives them. Someone who quibbles over their share of a restaurant bill obviously has a deep aversion to generosity, a man who cheats on his wife doesn't think much of her deep down, a woman who interprets every conversation as being about her is clearly self-obsessed, and a person who throws up bureaucratic barriers to getting something done is probably lazy.
Concentrate on what people are doing, not what they're saying. Most of us have good control over what's coming out of our mouths - and as the old saying goes "talk is cheap". But actions are more difficult to manage - not least of which because they're more expensive in effort and other resources.
It's easy for someone to say "I'm a generous person", but more difficult to cover the fact that they're not when it's their turn to buy a round of drinks.
Once you have a good understanding of what motivates a person, catching them lying is relatively straightforward. If they say something in a situation that doesn't fit with their motivational profile, you can be pretty sure you've caught them out.
If someone refuses to be specific, they're probably lying
A couple of years back, I was working for a large investment bank. There was a technical audit coming up, which meant a lot of very hard and boring work. It was important that we pass this audit, and the CEO gave us a pep-talk about it. He acknowledged we would have to work hard, but assured us we would be rewarded if we passed. In fact, he said this sentence about five times - "You will be rewarded".
Afterwards, someone asked him what specific rewards he had in mind. "Look, you know I can't go into that now, but be assured, it will be something good," he replied
As soon as he said that, I knew he was lying.
If someone refuses to be specific about something, then they're probably not telling the truth. That's because being explicit carries the burden of commitment, which a liar wants to avoid at all costs.
Using general terms such as "it will be good, I promise", or "of course I'll contribute something", or "don't worry, you can trust me on that point" is an almost certain sign that you're being duped. Ask for a specific details and see what reaction you get.
Oh yes, and what was our reward for two months hard work on the bank's audit? Chicken sandwiches in the boardroom one lunchtime.
Most liars have a tendency to overact
There are many people who know how to lie well, but most of them have one fatal flaw - they tend to overdo it. Often, they'll try to act pious and moral while speaking with a forked tongue.
If someone's using fine language and assuring everyone how pure and just their motivations are, you're almost certainly being lied to. People simply don't talk that way in everyday conversation.
If you say to someone, "You're in love with Jenny, aren't you?", which of the replies below is coming from the liar?
Reply 1: "No, don't be silly."
Reply 2: "No way am I in love with her! I'm just not interested in being with anyone at the moment. I've got to concentrate on my studies this year and it wouldn't be fair to burden someone with that. I can't believe you'd think such a thing!"
If you guessed reply 2, then you are, of course right.
There's a line in Hamlet, "The lady protests too much, methinks" which sums this up pretty well. Liars usually go too far in trying to convince someone what they're saying is true.
Look for overacting, exaggeration, and claims of moral purity in what someone's saying, and you've almost certainly caught them out in a lie.
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