How to Spot Liars and Achieve Balanced Interviews

Your key interview subject walks in, removes his coat and takes his seat. You offer him a cup of coffee and begin building some rapport. You immediately begin watching his hands, face and posture. You scrutinize his sentences and ask yourself, “Is this person lying to me? How can I tell?” Your observations and analysis might make or break your case.

“I believe there’s no such thing as a bad interviewee, but there is such a thing as a bad interviewer,” said body-language expert Steve van Aperen during the Tuesday morning session. “If your questions are not clear and concise during the interview, it will allow a deceptive person to lie.” Also, he said, it’s quite easy to misread visual cues.

He said that all of us lie in 30 to 38 percent of our interactions, and others lie to us or deceive us up to 200 times per day. And we lie to ourselves up to seven times per hour.

Van Aperen said some of men’s top lies are: “I’m on my way,” “I’m at the office,” “I’ll call you,” “You’ve lost weight,” “I didn’t have that much to drink.” Women: “There’s nothing wrong — it’s fine,” “It was on sale,” “It wasn’t that expensive.” Men and women lie with equal frequency, he said, but we can detect men better because they often pause mid-sentence when they lie, and they stutter more. “So women have a distinct advantage over men,” he said.

Though dishonesty surrounds us, van Aperen says anybody can think of a lie but it’s difficult to communicate that lie with believability and credibility. “Interviewees will always express the same verbal and nonverbal cues — I call them ‘leakage’ or ‘seepage’ — but the problem is we don’t know what to look for,” he said. “We listen to the content and structure … but there are other parameters we should look for. … We need to look at contradictions between what they’re saying and what in fact their body language is saying.”

Van Aperen provided several questions we can ask ourselves to assure more balanced interviews:

  • Is the person answering your question or sidestepping the issue altogether?
  • Is the person answering the question with another question or deflecting?
  • Is the person denying or making objections to a question like, “Did you steal that money?” “No I didn’t” (denial) as opposed to “Why would I do that?” or “I don’t need to steal money” or “I’m not that kind of person” or “It’s wrong to steal.” The last statement is a view but not a denial.
  • Is the person omissive, defensive, dismissive or evasive (behaviors that are often associated with avoidance)?
  • Is there conflict or contradiction between what a person is saying and what their body language is doing (such as nodding his or her head in the affirmative while denying something)?
  • Is the person using concealment, blocking or masking gestures such as a hand covering the mouth or face while talking?
  • Are verbal statements accompanied by contradictory non-verbal cues of doubt, such as shaking of the head no when stating something is true?
  • Is the person exhibiting genuine or fake expressions of anger, happiness, sadness, disgust, contempt or surprise?

“Remember this,” van Aperen said. “For every one lie a person tells you they have to invent another three or four to protect themselves from the first one. Secondly, they have to have a good memory because they have to think, ‘What have I said previously is likely to convict me now.’ ” With the right tools we can spot hard-working liars before they can complicate and obfuscate our cases.