If you ever catch your boss in a bold-faced lie, you'll want to be prepared for the next one. Fortunately, researchers have identified a broad collection of cues people give when they're trying to deceive.
If you caught the TV series "Lie to Me" when it aired between 2009 and 2011, you may already be familiar with the complex science of detecting deception (if you missed it, the show is available on Netflix's streaming service). In the pilot episode of "Lie to Me," a white supremacist sneers at his interrogator for a microsecond, giving away his church-bombing scheme without saying a word.
Professional deception detectors look for a combination of subtle cues including facial expressions, body language and word usage to tell when somebody's lying. While learning these cues won't guarantee you'll catch every fib that leaves your boss's lips, they can clue you in when deception's in the air.
Start with Baseline Behavior
If you're having suspicions about your boss's honesty, deception experts recommend establishing "baseline" observations of how your boss behaves in situations where there's no plausible reason to lie.
"I can teach people to baseline in the five minutes when they're having coffee before negotiations," says Carol Kinsey Goman, an executive coach and body language specialist whose book "The Truth About Lies in the Workplace: How to Spot Liars and What to do About Them," will be published in June 2013.
Goman and other lie-detection experts agree that once you know your boss's baseline behavior, it's time to start watching for departures from the baseline that might point to stress, which in turn may point to lying.
Goman cites university studies that identify four non-verbal signs of deception: touching hands, touching the face, crossing arms and leaning away. No single signal will gives away somebody's lies, "but when you get a combination of these, you should understand this is a hot spot, this is a red flag," Goman says.
Watch for Verbal and Non-Verbal clues
"You have to be careful not to say 'Oh, your eyebrow twitched, you're lying,' " says Pamela Meyer, author of "Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception." Meyer's companion website, www.liespotting.com, offers three key categories of signals for deception:
- Words: People talk one way when they tell the truth and another when they lie. Liars often avoid using contractions, strenuously insist they are telling the truth and give overly specific denials, Meyer's research has found.
- Face: Our faces are incredibly sensitive to stress, which is why the tiniest shifts in facial expressions can give away our lies. Small movements around the eyes distinguish between honest and dishonest smiles. Even the most accomplished liars cannot avoid an involuntary look of contempt or disgust that gives them away. Also: Liars do make eye contact -- an unusually piercing stare could be a sign your boss is trying to lie his way out of a situation.
- Body: Hunched shoulders can signal discomfort. Someone who seems unnaturally stiff may have something to hide. People usually use their hands to tell a story, so if the hands are still, somebody could be deceiving.
The Limits of Lie Detection
Research has found that the best professional lie detectors can succeed more than 90 percent of the time, but the rest of us rarely have better than a coin-flip's chance of catching a liar in the act.
Think about that before you set out to unmask your boss's deceptive tendencies. Calling anybody a liar is a grave social transgression; falsely accusing your boss of deception could be career suicide.
"It's not cut and dried," Goman says. If you catch your boss in a lie, she says, you have to ask yourself if that's something you can live with to keep your job or succeed in your career.
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