When We Tell Lies, We Leak the Truth

Do you think you can detect lies? Cliff Lansley thinks you should go one step further and detect the truth.

“Some people call me a professional lie detector. I prefer to use the phrase ‘truth detector’ because when people tell lies, they leak the truth,” said Lansley, body language expert and CEO of the Emotional Intelligence Academy (EIA) and managing director of Paul Ekman International. Lansley was the keynote speaker during Monday's working lunch session.

Lansley gave an example of a fictitious truth detector in action during a video excerpt from the former Fox television show, “Lie to me.” (Paul Ekman International was a show consultant.) In the excerpt, business people are gathered in a boardroom. At one end of the table a woman is wanting to sell shares of her company to a wealthy business owner at the other end of the table. A body-language scientist — hired by the woman — observes the negotiations. Every time he sees some truth leakage, he’ll touch his legal pad with his pen.

The body-language expert signals to the seller of the shares to push the price higher when he sees the buyer give a slight “no” head shake when he says, “$12.50 a share. I can’t do better.”

“The body contradicts the words,” Lansley said. “This is a micro-gestural slip. The people showing it often don’t know they’re showing it. This is a clue to what the person is really thinking and feeling. … We call that a Point of Interest — PIN. One PIN alone doesn’t matter. We look for three indicators within a short space of time.

“Second, manipulators: When he said, ‘I’m leaving’ and stood up he was manipulating,” Lansley said. In the video excerpt, the body-language scientist touched his legal pad with his pen again at that point. “He didn’t really want to leave,” and the seller knew she could push a bit more on the price, Lansley said, which she did.

During a two-minute table-group exercise, in which Lansley asked, “What is your ability to detect deception?” most of the attendees thought they could do so 60 percent of the time. But Lansley said that statistics show that most fraudsters and criminals are better than most of us at lie detection — at about 65 percent — and all the rest are no better than chance. Though only a few are genetically predisposed to be good truth observers, the good news, Lansley said, is that most can be trained. After four days of training, he said, 90 percent of non-criminals become good truth detectors.

Lansley described six channels to pay attention to when evaluating deception:

  • Content
  • Interactional style
  • Voice
  • Face
  • Body
  • Psychophysiology

He said no single channel is the most reliable indicator of deception, but fraud examiners must take most or all of them into account to give them confidence as to whether someone is telling the truth or lying.