It doesn’t exactly feel like lying. Since others seem to be having such glorious times, from what they share online, we are sorely tempted to embellish our own tales. Further, until recently, we could click on a Facebook advertisement to hire someone to lie for us — about our brilliant successes at past jobs or where we were last night, for example.
Modern “social” life is ripe for temptation so it’s especially helpful to recognize some myths and counterintuitive truths about lying. Just keep in mind our self-deception. As Charles F. Bond wrote when approached by our U.S. intelligence agencies to help catch terrorists, “We see lying as something others do. We see liars as the most despicable of human beings. For many of us, lie becomes another word for evil, and we would never imagine that we ourselves might lie.”
1. What do those apparently shifty eyes mean?
When someone is telling you something and looks up to the right, they are lying, according to an often-cited neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) claim. And they are telling the truth if they glance up to the right. Yet at least three studies show no differences in truth-telling by which way you look up. While a co-director of the NLP Training Center of New York, Steven Leeds recently asserted that NLP only cites eye movement as a way to recognize whether someone uses visual, auditory or kinesthetic (physical) cues to take in information, even that is disputed.
2. There are unexpected personal benefits of lying.
Knowing when to remain silent, or to tell a white lie is, in fact, a social skill, some believe. Social psychologist Robert Feldman said, “We don’t want to hear hurtful things.” Bizarrely, people who lie tend to be more popular. And embellishment-as-lying has its benefits. In interviews, college students who exaggerated their GPA later showed improvement in their grades. Their lies were self-fulfilling prophecies. Further, “exaggerators tend to be more confident and have higher goals for achievement,” according to University of Southampton in England psychologist Richard Gramzow, who concluded that “positive biases about the self can be beneficial.”
Yet, our overall psychological health improves when we tell fewer lies.
3. Few are good lie detectors.
“Most so-called lie detection experts — experienced detectives, psychiatrists, job interviewers, judges, polygraph administrators, intelligence agents and auditors — hardly do better than chance,” wrote Adam M. Grant. “In a massive analysis of studies with more than 24,000 people, psychologists Charles Bond Jr. and Bella DePaulo found that even the experts are right less than 55 percent of the time.” Amateurs and so-called experts overestimate their ability to read body language, including detect deception. According to Sue Russell, that confidence “is counterproductive and even lowers the accuracy of judgments. People under stress — being wrongly accused certainly qualifies — can behave in ways impossible to distinguish from those who are lying.”
Yet, when business professionals, “amateurs” at lie detection, were asked to interview prospective employees, which kind of person was better at detecting liars and thus less likely to hire them, the more skeptical or the trusting evaluators? (See the answer at the end of the blog post.)
4. Some situations seem to spur lying.
According to a piece published on Psychology Today, discussing research by psychologist Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.:
• “Both men and women lie in approximately a fifth of their social exchanges lasting 10 or more minutes.”
• “Over the course of a week they deceive about 30 percent of those with whom they interact one-on-one.”
• “‘College students lie to their mothers in one out of two conversations,’ reports DePaulo.”
5. We usually lie to get along (a lie we tell ourselves?).
How often do most of us lie? About once or twice a day according to the same Psychology Today piece, “and sometimes we tell the biggest lies to those we love most.” Not you, of course, which may be a lie. According to social psychologist Robert Feldman, most of us lie to avoid others’ hurt feelings or anger, and “to make us feel better about ourselves” — or so we tell ourselves. We are also more likely to lie to someone we just met.
6. One thing we miss when our self-awareness isn’t off…
7. Three ways you may be able to trap a liar:
• Ask open questions that encourage others to talk, and allow you to listen for inconsistencies, both in what they say, and in what they say and you already know.
• Ask unexpected questions at unexpected times.
• When asking about a situation, ask them questions that relate to parts of the event in reverse chronological order. In other words, rather than asking what happened, begin by asking about something you know happened near or at the end of the incident. If someone is lying it is more difficult to keep the sequence straight in their minds.
(Following up on number three, the evaluators who were trusting were better at detecting lying and less likely to hire those who most lied in the interviews.)
Three Actionable Truths
“One may outwit another, but not all the others.” — Francois de la Rochefoucauld
“Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what every man wishes, that he also believes to be true.” — Demosthenes
“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” — Mark Twain
For more by Kare Anderson, click here.
For more on emotional intelligence, click here.