In our last post, we learned two techniques to use when dealing with questions and answers. These were “allowing for silence” and “listening to the words spoken.” We would like to add five more techniques– sharing many details, telling the story backward, requesting the person to clarify their story, being above reproach, and stating the level of honesty.
Sharing Many Details
Liars like to offer details. Laura MacLeod, an instructor at the Silberman School of Social Work, says, “If you feel like too much information is being offered, without you asking, it probably is a lie or at least a partial lie.” For example, “My mother always allows me to walk across the bridge to Walmart. I like going to Walmart. They have a McDonald’s in the store, and my mother gives me money to get a snack after school. Some of the other students go there also.”
Telling the Story Backward
Liars are terrible at telling their stories backward. Renee Cocchi, in her article, 10 Absolute Giveaways That Someone Is Lying to You, says, “People who lie give you a lot of details. But ask them to repeat their story in a different order, and they’ll often freeze. They need to tell their story in the order they memorized it. They can’t tell it backward. So, if you are in doubt about someone’s honesty, ask them an unexpected question about something that happened in the middle of the story. Then immediately ask another question about something from the beginning. It catches them off guard and they’ll have to think long and hard about it.”
Furthermore, do not point it out when one notices some kind of contradiction in what they say. It is better to allow the liar’s confidence to build as they rattle off more falsehoods rather than correcting them.
Requesting the Person to Clarify Their Story
Another strategy for determining truthfulness is to ask the person to clarify their story. This strategy is beneficial for those who may not have rehearsed their story and make things up as they talk. Stop them in the conversation and ask them to repeat their side of the story; a person who is lying may not keep their story straight. For example, ask, “Would you please go back and tell me what you meant when you said . . .”
Jamie Kulaga, who holds a Ph.D. and is a mental health counselor, says, “In fact, one lie often leads to another and another to cover for the previous lie. If you ask a liar a question and come back to the story of events at a later time, you might get a different answer or an answer that does not add up to their first response.”15 They change their story each time.
Being Above reproach
Liars tend to make a point that they are above reproach. In other words, they are not to blame. For example, “Are you telling me that you were not lying when you said you were not smoking under the bridge?” “Of course, I was not smoking. I would never lie to you.” Alternatively, “No, I think lying is morally wrong, besides smoking on campus is against the Code of Conduct.” To sound more forceful, a liar offers abstract assurance as evidence of his innocence in a specific instance. In his mind, the evidence does not weigh favorably for him, so he brings in his fictitious belief system to back him up.
Stating the Level of Honesty
Stating the level of honesty is another indication that a person may be lying. For example, in asking Johnny about smoking under the bridge, he might respond, “To be perfectly honest, that would be a perfect place to smoke and not get caught,” “To be perfectly frank, I would never smoke on campus,” or “To tell you the truth, I have never smoked.”
We hear these phrases all the time; people may add these unconsciously as part of a conversation. Using these words may have no dishonest intent. However, when included as a response in a misconduct investigation, one wonders if these also indicate dishonesty.
Lieberman warns, “If these phrases are not part of a person’s usual verbal repertoire, watch out! If someone’s going to tell you the truth, it’s unlikely that he would start out by saying just that. If he feels the need to tell you that he’s being honest and that you’re about to receive the whole truth, you can be pretty sure you’re not getting it . . . some people will say just about anything to sound believable.”
Another technique for spotting a liar is watching a person’s body language as they are responding. Our book Who Done It? Truth and Consequences Guide for Educators, 2021 covers various non-verbal messages, including body movement, facial expressions, vocal tone, volume, and other signals. All of these could provide clues that a person is lying. We encourage you to order your copy on Amazon.
In our final post in this series, we will deal with deceiving and misleading.