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How to tell when someone is lying

Photo illustration
Photo illustration Courtesy photo

When two people meet for the first time, each says three untrue things in the first 15 minutes, according to Clark Freshman, a law professor at the University of California.

Freshman travels internationally teaching people how to better spot lies.

Freshman says his tips can help vet job candidates, uncover the truth in an employee investigation or contract negotiation, and help people spot lies from their children, spouses or friends.

He says his tips can help vet job candidates, uncover the truth in an employee investigation or contract negotiation, and help people spot lies from their children, spouses or friends.

He came to Wichita on Tuesday as the keynote speaker for the Foulston Siefkin Employment Law Seminar, catered toward business owners, executives and people who work in human resources. It was hosted by the Foulston Siefkin law firm.

In general, people detect lies at about the rate of a coin flip. Freshman said he helps improve accuracy to around 70 to 80 percent – but he emphasizes that none of these clues are panaceas.

“There’s nothing like Pinocchio,” he said. “There’s no clue that everyone gives off when they lie, and there’s no one clue that definitely means they’re lying.”

Five ways to spot lies

1. The overarching theme for how to catch a lie is to know a person’s baseline, or how they normally act.

That includes how much eye contact they typically make, their regular body language, how much they move around, how fast they speak, how often they say “um” or “uh” and if they’re formal versus colloquial.

What’s normal for one person can indicate lying in another.

“If you know you’re going to have a potential investigation of an employee, make notes to yourself to have a baseline in advance of a problem,” Freshman said.

If you know you’re going to have a potential investigation of an employee, make notes to yourself to have a baseline in advance of a problem.

Clark Freshman, law professor at the University of California

2. Freshman says to “let go of what we know” because much of it is misinformation.

The most common misconception, he said, is the association of upward eye movement with true versus false memory recall.

Nonetheless, he said, when people break eye contact it often indicates they are thinking harder.

The most common misconception about spotting lies, he said, is the association of upward eye movement with memory recall.

He says to ask yourself: “Should that person be thinking harder in the context of the question?” For example, should this be easy to answer? Or does it genuinely require more thought.

“If you say, ‘What’s your bottom line?’, they say, ‘$80,000,’ and you say, ‘Is that what your bottom line is?’ And they look up and around – they’re thinking about it,” he said. “It might not be the bottom line.”

But Freshman warns not to overthink eye contact.

“We assume that people should make eye contact,” he said. “As it turns out, some people are consistent, some people are not consistent. We often rely a bit too much on that.”

3. “Microexpressions” – facial movements made for less than a second – can provide insightful clues into deception or concealed emotions.

Freshman said 70 percent of the time, people show a fast, negative emotion – such as disgust – when they’re not telling the truth.

Disgust, he said, is characterized by a crinkled nose.

“Microexpressions” – facial movements made for less than a second – are shown 70 percent of the time when people lie.

Other expressions include: anger, expressed with downward pointing eyebrows and a glare; contempt, characterized by a half smile; and confusion or thought, which looks like an exaggerated frown.

He said people often confuse an exaggerated frown with sadness, but he said that only takes place in cartoons.

Contempt, he said, sometimes indicates if someone’s shadowing the truth, because it implies judgment, but not necessarily a moral one.

For example, if someone asks, “Do you like this tie?” And the other person replies with a contemptuous look, it could indicate that they don’t like the tie but don’t feel comfortable saying so.

“It’s the only expression in universal emotions that shows up on only one side of the face,” he said.

He pointed to President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney as frequent users of contemptuous expressions.

4. If someone says “no” but nods yes, pay attention.

Freshman said contradictory body language is a major sign of lying, but doesn’t often appear.

When that shows up, he said, it indicates lying at 70 to 80 percent accuracy.

Freshman said contradictory body language shows up only about a quarter of the time, but indicates lying at about 70 to 80 percent when it does appear.

But it appears only about a quarter of the time.

5. Lastly, he said to recognize emotion and cultural barriers in lie detection.

Language barriers and cultural differences can sometimes appear as deceptive clues, but instead are innocuous.

He said to be wary of snap judgment tendencies.

The problems: “One, it’s a snap judgment – we don’t know enough information to make the judgment,” he said. And two, “Then we stick with it.”

Gabriella Dunn: 316-268-6400, @gabriella_dunn

Clues that someone might be lying to you

Clark Freshman, regarded as an expert in lie detection, distilled his research into four quick tips. But, he says, it’s important to keep in mind that no one clue unanimously indicates deception.

▪ Change from baseline: The person’s voice, body language or speaking habits are different from usual.

▪ Negative microexpressions: A negative emotion flashes across their face for less than a second.

▪ Contradictory body language: They say “no” but shake their head yes, or say “yes” but shake their head no.

▪ Signs of anxiety: They cough, lick their lips, displaying dehydration, change their pattern with a gasp or use chest breathing.

Source: Clark Freshman, law professor at the University of California

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