Some Truths About Lies: Part IV
by Rick Brenner
Extended interviews provide multiple opportunities for detecting lies by people intent on deception. Here's Part IV of our little collection of lie detection techniques.
An actual red herring. Red herrings are herrings, smoked, pickled, and/or salted. The process turns the fish red, and bestows upon them a strong smell. The tale linking this food item with the metaphor indicating irrelevant distraction is apocryphal. Until recently, it was widely believed that as part of the training for hounds or horses, a red herring would be dragged across the path of the fox or hare to test the hounds and horses. But according to recent research by Michael Quinion, and available at his Web site "World Wide Words," the metaphor was invented by journalist William Cobbett, who published a radical newsletter called Weekly Political Register from 1803 to 1835. According to Quinion, Cobbett uses the metaphor in the issue of 14 February 1807. Photo by GRuban courtesy Wikipedia.
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.
Deceivers are nothing if not clever. None of these indicators is foolproof. First in this series Top Next Issue
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See also Ethics at Work and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.
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