As we saw last time, interviews — nonaccusatory question-and-answer sessions — provide a means for investigators to uncover truth even when the person being interviewed is intent on deception. Here are four more techniques for detecting lies.
- Excessive certainty
- To compensate for a feeling that the interviewer might be closing in on Truth, or to hide the deceiver's uncertainty from the interviewer, the deceiver can project an air of certainty. But presenting just the right degree of certainty can be tricky for someone who's spinning a yarn. Sometimes deceivers overshoot.
- Most of us can't be really certain about very much. Some deceivers stand out because they deliver material with conviction beyond what might be considered typical of a truth teller, or typical for that particular deceiver.
- Red herring
- The red herring is a diversion technique intended to turn the interviewer in a direction the deceiver considers safe. For instance, in response to "Just how much over budget do you think you'll be?", a deceiver using a red-herring response might discuss the budget performance of other projects.
- Some red herrings are combined with attacks on rivals or already-established scapegoats. For example, the deceiver can use a red herring to lead the audience to conclusions that harm the audience's rivals. Since most audiences would find such material enticing, this form of red herring can be very effective. A first use of the red herring response is a warning sign; a second use must be dealt with directly.
- Consistency becomes increasingly difficult to achieve for deceivers interviewed multiple times, facing multiple interviewers, over a number of sessions, spread over time.
- One escape remains for deceivers who exhibit inconsistencies. They can claim that inconsistencies are due to "rapid evolution of the situation." That is, they might say that new information has come to light, creating the inconsistency. To defend against this, compress the interview's time scale until it's much shorter than the time scale of changes in the situation. Even better, freeze all activity in the environment under review.
- Halting presentation
- As the interview proceeds, possibly across multiple Consistency becomes increasingly difficult
to achieve for deceivers interviewed
multiple times, facing multiple
interviewers, over a number of
sessions, spread over timesessions and multiple interviewers, lie piles on lie. Some deceivers then begin having difficulty keeping straight in their minds what they told to whom and when. Spinning new lies then becomes more challenging than merely creatively constructing simple tales. It's now necessary to construct tales that are at least somewhat consistent with previous tales.
- When this happens, mental resources are required for both consistent tale construction and fluent speech. Only the most facile liars can marshal these resources. And even for them, extending the interview, swapping out one interviewer for another, and stretching the interview over longer periods, can saturate the deceiver's ability to creatively match new lies with old. The result is an increasingly halting presentation.
Deceivers are nothing if not clever. None of these indicators is foolproof. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Ethics at Work:
- Some Truths About Lies: I
- However ethical you might be, you can't control the ethics of others. Can you tell when someone knowingly
tries to mislead you? Here's Part I of a catalog of techniques misleaders use.
- The Attributes of Political Opportunity: The Basics
- Opportunities come along even in tough times. But in tough times, it's especially important to distinguish
between true opportunities and high-risk adventures. Here are some of the attributes of desirable political
- Telephonic Deceptions: II
- Deception at work probably wasn't invented at work. Most likely it is a continuation of deception in
the rest of life. But the technologies of the modern workplace offer new opportunities to practice the
art. Here's Part II of a handy guide for telephonic self-defense.
- On Reporting Workplace Malpractice
- Reporting workplace malpractice can be the right thing to do. And it's often career-dangerous. Here
are some risks to ponder before reporting what you know.
- Online Ethics
- The array of media for exchanging our thoughts in text has created new opportunities for acting unethically.
Cyberbullying is one well-known example. But sending text is just one way to cross the line ethically.
Here are some examples of alternatives.
See also Ethics at Work and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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