There are times it’s obvious when a man is lying. Like when he opens his mouth. Just kidding! We’re not that bitter (typically). But seriously, there are times in some relationships when you wonder if he really was at his buddy Jim’s house playing poker until 3:30 a.m. Or if that woman Mindy with the ginormous ta-tas who friended him on Facebook really is “just some girl that used to live up the street” from him.
Well, with the help of Pamela Meyer, author of “Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception” — and a Harvard Business School grad — now you can know for sure. We caught up with Meyer to learn how to separate fact from fiction when it comes to men and relationships.
How did you come to learn this lie-detecting skill?
Meyer: Don’t worry, I don’t go around interrogating wise-guys, terrorists or insurance salesmen. Five years ago, at my Harvard Business School 20th reunion, I took a workshop with 350 of my classmates where a professor detailed his findings on how people behave when they are being deceptive.
What they do with their posture, their purses, their backpacks, their language structure, their smiles. I witnessed something you rarely see. For 45 minutes straight, 350 people were riveted. No one was tapping at their blackberries. No one was running to the hall to start a conference call. People who thought they had seen it all were learning something completely new and useful. When I witnessed this unusual moment of executive silence, I knew I had happened onto something interesting.
I then trained in advanced interrogation techniques, facial micro-expression reading, behavior elicitation and body language and gesture pattern analysis, and combined that training, which is usually the domain of the intelligence world and law enforcement, with a survey of all of the published research in the field of deception.
And then you compiled it all into this book?
Exactly. I wanted to bring these techniques, which are easy to learn and should not be considered “secret” to everyday people — single people on bad first dates, first time home buyers who need to know if that basement floods when it rains, mothers of teenagers and business people. Lying permeates society today, especially with the proliferation of digital platforms for creating fake identities. Researchers have studied this systematically and it turns out we are told anywhere from 25 to 200 lies a day.
Seriously? 200 lies a day?
We have a deception epidemic gaining ground in our society. We don’t expect CEOs or public officials to tell us the truth, our TV networks lean blue or red, we were barely outraged by Bernie Madoff, and our political campaigns are shouting matches between adversaries screaming “liar, liar” instead of discussions of the issues. Not to mention we’re losing touch with the value of face-to-face interaction. We have thousands of Facebook friends, but don’t know which are real. Just as it’s not a good idea to close a business deal with someone whose voice you’ve never heard, whose hand you will never shake while looking in the eye to say “deal,” it’s also not a good idea to have an intimate online exchange with someone you don’t actually don’t know! We need to rethink who we should give the very valuable currency of our trust to.
So who lies more, men or women?
The difference is actually in what men and women lie about. Men tell eight times more self-oriented lies, while women tend to tell lies to protect others. We also know that extroverts lie more than introverts, feel more comfortable lying and persist longer at it. And unmarried people lie 70 percent more to their partners than married people. We know from the research that good liars are high self monitors — they read others well, manage their own emotions, put others at ease — they intuitively sense how others perceive them.
What are the most common things people lie about?
Lies fall into two categories: practical and bolstering. Some common practical lies that men might tell a woman are: “I’m available. My wife and I are getting a divorce,” or “No, you don’t look fat — that dress looks great on you,” or “Honey, it’s not you, it’s me,” which translates to: you will start screaming at me if I have to tell you why I am really breaking up with you and I really just can’t wait for this conversation to be over.
Bolstering lies are used to protect one’s status and for men, to convince women of their power. Some common bolstering lies are: “I’m just under 6 feet tall,” or “I played varsity football in high school,” or “No I’m not lost, I’m just looking around.”
Some of those sound like little white lies, as opposed to hurtful deceptions. Is lying sometimes harmless?
Yes — and helpful in some cases. Lying has evolutionary value to us as a species. We are hardwired to be leaders of the pack. For instance, if one caveman had told another caveman where his cave was, he could have lost his woman and his food!
What’s the number one “tell” most people have when they’re lying?
The most common form of deception is the false smile. You can learn to spot the difference between a fake and a real smile easily — a real smile will engage the crows feet around the eyes while a fake smile will not.
What are some other fool-proof methods to spot a liar?
First you have to learn to baseline your subject — that’s the B in my BASIC method, outlined in the book. Observe someone’s normal behavior and get to know when they veer from the norm. Observe posture, their laugh, how they handle stress normally. What kind of pacifiers do they use to calm themselves down? If someone normally taps his foot all the time, don’t accuse him unjustly of lying when he starts tapping his foot.
Then look for clusters of verbal and non-verbal tells. Some examples of non-verbal cues: Liars don’t rehearse their gestures, just their words. The cognitive load is huge on them when they are trying to appear sincere and tell their story. Consequently they freeze their upper body, often times look down, lower their voice, slow their breathing and blink rate, and then exhibit a recognizable moment of post interview relief when the interview is over. Interrogators will often end an interview prematurely just to look for that relief. They shift in posture and relaxation.
And the verbal ones?
People who are overdetermined in their denial resort to non-contracted language. For example, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” rather than I didn’t. They will use distancing language as in “that woman” and pepper their story with inappropriate detail to convince you they are telling the truth. They will look you in the eye too much when in fact most people telling the truth only look you in the eye a comfortable 60% of the time. And the biggest verbal tell with teenagers or boyfriends and girlfriends in a new relationship: stories told in perfect chronological order. Try to get them to tell their story backwards. They can’t do it! Honest people remember stories in the order of emotional prominence.
To learn more on how to catch a liar and to test your “lie-q”, go to Liespotting.