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: 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 questionprobe 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.
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More articles on Ethics at Work:
- Workplace Politics vs. Integrity
- A reader wrote recently of wanting to learn "to effectively participate in office politics without
compromising my integrity." It sometimes seems that those who succeed in workplace politics must
know how to descend to the blackest depths, and still sleep at night. Must we abandon our integrity
to participate in workplace politics?
- The Attributes of Political Opportunity: The Finer Points
- Opportunities come along even in tough times. But in tough times like these, it's especially important
to sniff out true opportunities and avoid high-risk adventures. Here are some of the finer points to
assist you in your detective work.
- On the Appearance of Impropriety
- Avoiding the appearance of impropriety is a frequent basis of business decisions. What does this mean,
what are the consequences of such avoiding, and when is it an appropriate choice?
- Some Truths About Lies: 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.
- Influence and Belief Perseverance
- Belief perseverance is the pattern that causes us to cling more tightly to our beliefs when contradictory
information arrives. Those who understand belief perseverance can use it to manipulate others.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.