You're Being Lied To: Here's How to Tell When

Last Updated Aug 25, 2010 1:16 PM EDT

Would it help you be a better manager if you could detect when you were being lied to? To know when a job applicant was padding his experience or that a direct report was misdirecting you on the progress of an important project?

Pamela Meyer believes she can transform you into a human lie detector.

Her new book Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception is getting quite the publicity with all its demonstrations of "tells" that reveal how everyone from Bill Clinton to Sarah Palin have lied on camera. Don't feel smug. According to Meyer, "We are all liars ... everyone lies."

Meyer, a Harvard Business School MBA, says her book is especially useful for business leaders. After all, what would a negotiator give to know if the person across the bargaining table is bluffing?

I've picked six of her tips that might be useful at work. Here's what to look for:
  • Too much eye contact. People will normally look you in the eye about 60 percent of the time during a conversation, says Meyer. Someone lying to you will burn a hole in the back of your cranium.
  • Excessive lip smacking and pursing. This is the one that gave Palin away when she was asked to explain the Bush Doctrine, Meyer says.
  • Non-contracted denials. Liars tend to drop contractions. Remember Bill Clinton's "I did not (not "didn't") have sex with that woman." (Clinton was also guilty of another tell in that moment, Meyer says: over explaining.)
  • Saying "yes" while head shaking "no." A John Edwards move when asked if he would take a lie detector test about paternity. Of course, he told the interviewer as he shook his head sideways.
  • Qualifying language. This is a clear tell -- at least to the best of my knowledge. That's what I've heard anyway.
  • Fake smile. This is a smile that doesn't engage the crow's-feet at the corner of the eyes.
So tell the truth now, what's your favorite lie-detecting technique? Have you told a real whopper and got away with it?

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  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.

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