My wife and I were recently in Europe and found ourselves wandering through a street full of tourist shops on a beautiful sunny afternoon. We tried to avoid the souvenir stores and strolled through several pastry shops, olive oil shops and fruit stand indulging in the local sights and smells. We also poked our heads into a couple garment stores, curiously looking to see if any local fashions fit our style. In one particular store the sales woman started off friendly, introduced herself and gave us some space. Eventually she sensed we might actually be interested in buying a coat for my wife. Her approach changed very quickly and she started coming on much stronger and offering discounts before we even asked. Her English was fair and her answers to my questions were limited. And although I agreed, she was telling my wife how pretty she looked an awful lot. Something didn’t feel right. Thankfully a quick google check confirmed my concerns and we walked away from a store full of knock off merchandise.
We’ve all had gut feelings that warned us when we thought people were being dishonest with us. Most of the time these gut feelings were accurate because subconsciously we identified verbal and/or behavioral anomalies that didn’t fit the situation. There are many common myths and stereotypes surrounding deception detection and unfortunately most of them are false. Unfortunately there is no magic clue that always alerts us to deception. There is however, a system we can follow to elevate our subconscious warning signals to our conscious decision making process. If we want to truly understand what our gut feelings tell us we must connect the dots to complete the picture and derive full meaning from what we see and hear.
Dot 1: Establish the Behavioral Norm
You can’t know what people look like when they are lying until you know what they look like when they are telling the truth. First you need to establish what people look and sound like when they are telling the truth. You accomplish this by opening the discussion with several topics you feel your counterpart should have no reason to lie about and mentally cataloguing the specifics of their verbal and non-verbal behavior as they respond. The characteristics of their responses form their truthful behavioral baseline, which you will use for future comparison.
Dot 2: Observe Behavioral Clusters
Science has yet to identify a single behavior that always indicates truth or deception. Therefore, it is important to look for groups of behavior that deviate from the truthful baseline. As an example, when people scratch their arms it may be because their arms itch. However, when people cough, blink rapidly, and turn their heads to watch themselves scratch their arms it becomes more likely these behaviors indicate an increase in stress.
Dot 3: Identify the Trigger
After you observe the behavioral cluster you need to immediately ask yourself “What was just said, or what just occurred, to cause the behavioral shift?” The trigger could be something you said, a question you asked, a stressful part of their story, or even another person passing through the room.
Dot 4: Evaluate Within the Context of the Situation
Context is king. Similar behavioral shifts can mean very different things in different situations. It is critical that you accurately determine the most likely meaning of any behavior shifts you see within the context of the situation they occur in. Connect all the dots by asking yourself “What is the most likely reason this person’s behavior would change how and when it did in the context of this situation?” You may conclude they were nervous, scared, lying or possibly telling you the truth and afraid you won’t believe them.
To Summarize, if you want to attempt to determine if people are being honest with you remember to Establish the behavioral norm, Observe behavioral clusters that deviate from the norm, Identify the trigger that caused the change and Evaluate everything you observed within the context of the situation. Connecting these dots will create the clear picture you are looking for.