Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 13, Issue 48;   November 27, 2013: Some Truths About Lies: Part III

Some Truths About Lies: Part III

by

Detecting lies by someone intent on misrepresentation is an important skill for executives, managers, project managers, and just about anyone involved in knowledge-oriented organizations. Here's Part III of our little collection of lie detection techniques.
The molecular structure of Oleic Acid (a cis fat, top), and Elaidic Acid (a trans fat, bottom)

The molecular structure of Oleic Acid (a cis fat, top), and Elaidic Acid (a trans fat, bottom). The two fats have identical numbers of carbon atoms (black), hydrogen atoms (white) and oxygen atoms (red). The numbers of different bond types are also identical. The difference between the two is the placement of the carbon-carbon double bonds near the middle of the chains. In the trans fat version (Elaidic Acid, bottom), the carbon-carbon double bonds are across from each other (hence the name trans fat). In the cis fat version, the Oleic Acid, the carbon-carbon double bonds are adjacent to each other, which causes a bend in the chain at that point. (The prefix cis is from Latin. It means "on this side").

The molecules of the trans isomer are able to pack tightly together to form a solid at temperatures of the human body and slightly above. The molecules of the cis isomer aren't able to do so. They are liquids. This solidification property makes the trans fat an attractive ingredient for foods, because it extends shelf life by preventing rancidity. It also makes the trans fat a deadly ingredient in food, because it solidifies and collects on arterial walls, contributing to heart disease. Photos courtesy Wikipedia.

It's often difficult to detect a lie, but detecting lies can be much easier. Although spotting a single instance of a misleading statement can be difficult, we can often detect deceptions that might otherwise escape our notice if they're part of a series of statements offered over a period of time. One form that facilitates this scenario is the interview.

The term interview connotes a friendly question-and-answer format that we might encounter in print media or broadcast media. But the term also applies to a non-accusatory question-and-answer session during or after presentations at meetings, or in a one-on-one meeting with one's supervisor, or any of dozens of other situations at work. Interviews are distinguished from interrogations, which are clearly accusatory.

Here's Part III of our little catalog of indicators that suggest the handiwork of a deceiver, emphasizing techniques that apply during interviews. See "Some Truths About Lies: Part I," Point Lookout for August 4, 2004, for more.

Unpleasantness, defensiveness, or intimidation
Although many follow-up questions are motivated by innocent confusion or a search for clarity, some deceivers experience follow-up questions as challenges to the deceiver's claims. To prevent further follow-up questions, deceivers who fear that their deceptions aren't working sometimes express resentment or anger in response to follow-up questions. Rarely are these emotional displays real in the conventional sense. The deceivers are just using intimidation as a diversion to prevent further probing.
Deceivers who use intimidation, anger, sarcasm, or other means of deterring further questioning are at best failing to cooperate with the interviewer; at worst, they're concealing something important.
That can't be it; it's too small
Deceivers intent on discrediting evidence of errors, negligence, or wrongdoing sometimes assert that evidence is invalid because it's inconclusive on its own, even when it is valid as part of a complete pattern of evidence, or when it typifies incidents that have occurred numerous times. For example, consuming one gram of trans fat doesn't cause coronary artery disease. But consuming one gram per day for thirty years probably would.
Evidence dismissed by the deceiver prematurely as insufficient could indicate a desire to conceal a larger body of damning evidence. During the interview, take note of repeated use of this technique.
An answer for everything
When interviewers When interviewers probe for more
complete disclosure of deceivers'
positions, some deceivers have
exculpatory responses for
absolutely every question
probe for more complete disclosure of deceivers' positions, some deceivers have exculpatory responses for absolutely every question. Such a 100% performance isn't typical outside the realm of deception, because most people have only incomplete knowledge of any given situation.
More important, though, deceivers know that they're deceiving. Some are a little frightened about it. They tend to compensate by presenting stories without holes. But since some highly sophisticated deceivers know that ironclad stories are the mark of the deceiver, they do include some (unimportant) holes now and then.

We'll continue next time with more techniques for detecting lies using the interview. First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Some Truths About Lies: Part IV  Next Issue

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Related articles

More articles on Ethics at Work:

Two infants exchanging secretsYou Have to Promise Not to Tell a Soul
You're at lunch with one of your buddies, who's obviously upset. You ask why. "You have to promise not to tell a soul," is the response. You promise. And there the trouble begins.
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In the project context, we need to know that whatever we're hearing from colleagues is the truth as they see it. Yet, sometimes we shade the truth, or omit important details. Here's a list of some of the advantages of telling the truth.
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When we bring national or local political issues into the workplace — especially the divisive issues — we risk disrupting our relationships, our projects, and the company itself.
An actual red herringSome Truths About Lies: Part IV
Extended interviews provide multiple opportunities for detecting lies by people intent on deception. Here's Part IV of our little collection of lie detection techniques.
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The Seinfeld character "George Costanza" is famous for having said, "It's not a lie if you believe it." What if you don't believe it and it's true? Some musings.

See also Ethics at Work and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

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Controlling meeting blowhards is difficult enough in face-to-face meetings, but virtual meetings present next-level problems, because techniques that work face-to-face are unavailable. Here are eight tactics for controlling virtual blowhards. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
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Ramblers are people who can't get to the point. They ramble, they get lost in detail, and listeners can't follow their logic, if there is any. How can you deal with ramblers while maintaining civility and decorum? Available here and by RSS on April 5.

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