It's often difficult to detect a lie, but detecting lies can be much easier. Although spotting a single instance of a misleading statement can be difficult, we can often detect deceptions that might otherwise escape our notice if they're part of a series of statements offered over a period of time. One form that facilitates this scenario is the interview.
The term interview connotes a friendly question-and-answer format that we might encounter in print media or broadcast media. But the term also applies to a non-accusatory question-and-answer session during or after presentations at meetings, or in a one-on-one meeting with one's supervisor, or any of dozens of other situations at work. Interviews are distinguished from interrogations, which are clearly accusatory.
Here's Part III of our little catalog of indicators that suggest the handiwork of a deceiver, emphasizing techniques that apply during interviews. See "Some Truths About Lies: I," Point Lookout for August 4, 2004, for more.
- Unpleasantness, defensiveness, or intimidation
- Although many follow-up questions are motivated by innocent confusion or a search for clarity, some deceivers experience follow-up questions as challenges to the deceiver's claims. To prevent further follow-up questions, deceivers who fear that their deceptions aren't working sometimes express resentment or anger in response to follow-up questions. Rarely are these emotional displays real in the conventional sense. The deceivers are just using intimidation as a diversion to prevent further probing.
- Deceivers who use intimidation, anger, sarcasm, or other means of deterring further questioning are at best failing to cooperate with the interviewer; at worst, they're concealing something important.
- That can't be it; it's too small
- Deceivers intent on discrediting evidence of errors, negligence, or wrongdoing sometimes assert that evidence is invalid because it's inconclusive on its own, even when it is valid as part of a complete pattern of evidence, or when it typifies incidents that have occurred numerous times. For example, consuming one gram of trans fat doesn't cause coronary artery disease. But consuming one gram per day for thirty years probably would.
- Evidence dismissed by the deceiver prematurely as insufficient could indicate a desire to conceal a larger body of damning evidence. During the interview, take note of repeated use of this technique.
- An answer for everything
- When interviewers When interviewers probe for more
complete disclosure of deceivers'
positions, some deceivers have
exculpatory responses for
absolutely every questionprobe for more complete disclosure of deceivers' positions, some deceivers have exculpatory responses for absolutely every question. Such a 100% performance isn't typical outside the realm of deception, because most people have only incomplete knowledge of any given situation.
- More important, though, deceivers know that they're deceiving. Some are a little frightened about it. They tend to compensate by presenting stories without holes. But since some highly sophisticated deceivers know that ironclad stories are the mark of the deceiver, they do include some (unimportant) holes now and then.
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More articles on Ethics at Work:
- Tornado Warning
- When organizations go astray ethically, and their misdeeds come to light, people feel shocked, as if
they've been swept up by a tornado. But ethical storms do have warning signs. Can you recognize them?
- Some Things I've Learned Along the Way
- When I have an important insight, I write it down in a little notebook. Here are some items from my
- Devious Political Tactics: A Field Manual
- Some practitioners of workplace politics use an assortment of devious tactics to accomplish their ends.
Since most of us operate in a fairly straightforward manner, the devious among us gain unfair advantage.
Here are some of their techniques, and some suggestions for effective responses.
- Personnel-Sensitive Risks: I
- Some risks and the plans for managing them are personnel-sensitive in the sense that disclosure can
harm the enterprise or its people. Since most risk management plans are available to a broad internal
audience, personnel-sensitive risks cannot be managed in the customary way. Why not?
- The Costanza Matrix
- The Seinfeld character "George Costanza" is famous for having said, "It's not a lie if
you believe it." What if you don't believe it and it's true? Some musings.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 21: The Ultimate Attribution Error at Work
- When we attribute the behavior of members of groups to some cause, either personal or situational, we tend to make systematic errors. Those errors can be expensive and avoidable. Available here and by RSS on February 21.
- And on February 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
- Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else. It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
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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.