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 nonaccusatory 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.
We'll continue next time with more techniques for detecting lies using the interview. First in this series Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Ethics at Work:
- Budget Shenanigans: Swaps
- When projects run over budget, managers face a temptation to use creative accounting to address the
problem. The budget swap is one technique for making ends meet. It distorts organizational data, and
it's just plain unethical.
- Looking the Other Way
- Sometimes when we notice wrongdoing, and we aren't directly involved, we don't report it, and we don't
intervene. We look the other way. Typically, we do this to avoid the risks of making a report. But looking
the other way is also risky. What are the risks of looking the other way?
- Personnel-Sensitive Risks: I
- Some risks and the plans for managing them are personnel-sensitive in the sense that disclosure can
harm the enterprise or its people. Since most risk management plans are available to a broad internal
audience, personnel-sensitive risks cannot be managed in the customary way. Why not?
- Personnel-Sensitive Risks: II
- Personnel-sensitive risks are risks that are difficult to discuss openly. Open discussion could infringe
on someone's privacy, or lead to hurt feelings, or to toxic politics or toxic conflict. If we can't
discuss them openly, how can we deal with them?
- Counterproductive Knowledge Work Behavior
- With the emergence of knowledge-oriented workplaces, counterproductive work behavior is taking on new
forms that are rare or inherently impossible in workplaces where knowledge plays a less central role.
Here are some examples.
See also Ethics at Work and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 7: Toxic Disrupters: Tactics
- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
- And on June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
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