As we saw last time, interviews — non-accusatory 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.
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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?
- 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.
- When You Aren't Supposed to Say: III
- Most of us have information that's "company confidential," or even more sensitive than that.
Sometimes people who want to know what we know try to suspend our ability to think critically. Here
are some of their techniques.
- 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?
- 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.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 27: Stone-Throwers at Meetings: II
- A stone-thrower in a meeting is someone who is determined to halt forward progress. Motives vary, from embarrassing the chair to holding the meeting hostage in exchange for advancing an agenda. What can chairs do about stone-throwers? Available here and by RSS on March 27.
- And on April 3: Career Opportunity or Career Trap: I
- When we're presented with an opportunity that seems too good to be true, as the saying goes, it probably is. Although it's easy to decline free vacations, declining career opportunities is another matter. Here's a look at indicators that a career opportunity might be a career trap. Available here and by RSS on April 3.
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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.