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How to tell when a job candidate or staffer is lying to you

Whether interviewing a job candidate or talking with a staffer about an occurrence in the office, the manager needs to know how to tell who’s telling the truth and who isn’t.

It’s an art that calls for close attention to both verbal and nonverbal signs, says private investigator and security consultant Joseph A. LaSorsa, a former senior special agent with the U.S. Secret Service. Fail to pick up on those signs, and the manager is vulnerable to all kinds of deception.

Somebody who is lying tries to cover it up in two ways, he says.

One is deliberate cover-up efforts. People use those intentionally both to maximize their credibility and to minimize the chance of getting found out.

The other is unintentional cover-up efforts. Much of that is body language. Many liars display the motions unwittingly and spill the beans that what’s being said isn’t true.

The strategy of lying

The deliberate attempts are strategic. They are done on purpose to deceive. They fall into three areas:

One is information. The deceiver regulates or controls the information given.

Another is behavior. The deceiver tries to hide any body language that could generate suspicion.

And the third is image. The deceiver tries to project a positive image, or a positive face.

Here are some of the most common strategies managers need to watch for.

  • Vagueness. The individual gives only very brief and non-detailed answers such as, “I don’t think so” or “oh, not really.” There’s no explanation, because what’s said isn’t true to start with.
  • Withdrawing from the conversation. The person doesn’t answer a question but simply ignores it and keeps on talking.
  • A never wavering positive demeanor. The person is cool, very calm, and nonchalant. The hope is that by exhibiting no reaction or emotion, the deception won’t be detected.

Be especially cautious, LaSorsa says, when somebody is cool to the point of looking unnatural or when the positive face is just a little too positive.

  • Irrelevant information. The answer is too long and goes off on tangents unrelated to the topic. It’s a deliberate attempt to change the subject.
  • Making the question seem unimportant or saying there’s no connection between the question and the individual.

A liar often dismisses an issue with a preface such as, “well, I don’t know if that applies” or “that doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m talking about” or “that’s not something I’d be involved with, so I don’t understand why you’re asking about it.”

  • Speaking in all inclusive terms such as never or always or nobody as in “I would never do something like that” or “nobody would act that way.”
  • A short or even curt answer such as “nope” or “don’t know about that” or “not really.” There’s no attempt to explain, only to get off the topic as fast as possible.
  • Vague and indefinite terms. “Some of the time” can be an attempted cover for the fact that a staffer has done something repeatedly. “Usually” can be a cover for the fact that the staffer rarely or never performed some task or met some requirement.
  • Explaining things in plural – we or our or they as opposed to me and I. The staffer is creating a crowd to hide in. Responsibility gets deflected from the individual to a group, and the staffer slides by.
  • Long, run-on responses. The deceiver goes on and on with an answer that doesn’t address the issue and adds nothing to the conversation. What that person is doing is changing the subject and also buying time to deceive the manager.

What the liar misses

The non-deliberate or involuntary clues of lying are mostly elements of body language:

  • Dilated pupils. The pupils widen as they would in dim light.
  • Excessive blinking. People tend to blink more when they tell a lie than when they tell the truth.
  • Eye shifting. A deceiver looks up, down, sideways – anywhere but at the person being spoken to.
  • Hand motions. Everybody has hand movement, LaSorsa notes. Many people, for example, turn their hands over when making a point. “That’s normal,” he says. It’s when the movement is not normal that the truth may not be coming out. Tapping the table or touching the knee or the ankle or rubbing a pen – “that’s not normal hand gesturing. It’s nervous gesturing,” he says.

What about Italians who are known for speaking with their hands? Says LaSorsa, “If they don’t speak with their hands, they are probably lying.” It’s out-of-the-ordinary gestures that bespeak deception.

  • An absence of hand and head gestures. Beware of somebody who sits “frozen” and stares straight forward. Again, it’s beyond the ordinary. It’s suspicious.
  • An elevated voice. Often the voice takes on a higher pitch with lying than with truth telling.
  • Speech hesitations. These are the stallers such as ah and um and hmm. The person is buying time to cook up a story. And if there are pauses between the ahs and ums such as “what I did was . . . um . . . ” the person is buying even more time “to figure out how to get around the question.”
  • Absolute negatives. Words such as won’t, can’t, and no are an effort to end the conversation with no discussion.
  • Leg and torso motions. Toe tapping or swiveling in the chair or rocking all bespeak nervousness.

How to be a sleuth

LaSorsa adds that managers need to be careful that they don’t give out clues that they are trying to detect deception. When it’s obvious somebody is looking for signals, a deceiver will work hard to hide the indicators of being deceptive.

He recommends sitting behind a desk. That gives the manager a good view of the person sitting in the chair in front and at the same time hides the manager’s own body language.

Also, he says, don’t stare at the other person. The longer the stare, the more obvious it is that the manager is sizing up that person and looking for indications of deception.









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