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How can you tell if someone is lying?


I was on a plane from LA. The guy sitting next to me was drinking mini-bottles of vodka the entire way back.

We started talking. He once worked for a three initial agency that must be kept private. Then he worked for another one and another one.

His job: he interrogated people who might have been spies.

He told me some of the more famous cases he worked on.

One case was about a guy who stole nuclear secrets (“I remember that case!” I told him) who ended up getting away with it but then left the country as soon as he could and never came back.

“Did he do it?”

“Of course! That guy was guilty as sin.”

He told me he’s interrogated hundreds of people. Maybe thousands.

I said, “How can you tell if someone is lying?”

This was his answer:

ANSWER #1

  • Put them on a chair that rolls
  • Ask them some easy questions first. Like, “when were you born?” “Where do you live?” etc. They won’t roll away with their chair.
  • Ask them some harder questions that you know they will answer truthfully. Like, “What was your first job? Why’d you leave it?”
  • Then start to ask them the questions you are suspicious of. Like, “Why did you transfer files from your computer?”
  • If they start to roll away from you, then they are lying.

He said, “there’s another way you can tell.”

 

ANSWER #2

If you ask a question and they don’t answer directly.

For instance, your spouse comes home late and you say, “Where have you been?” and he or she answers, “I was out with friends!”

Notice: they did not answer the question. They never said where they have been.

So they have something to hide. Or they are lying.

The plane landed. We did the usual, “nice to meet you, we will probably never see each other again.”

We did see each other again. About two years later. I had a chance to interrogate him. But it was on my podcast. The one place I’m allowed to ask any question I want.

Did he lie during my podcast?

Who knows?


I have my own way of telling if people are lying to me.

 

ANSWER #3!

They are ALWAYS lying.

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I’ve noticed that this rule almost always applies: There is a good reason and a real reason.

Classic example:

My daughter says, “Dad, I need to study in the library.”

“Studying” is a good reason.

Unsaid: “and there are lots of guys hanging out at the library today.” That might be the real reason.

I started to notice that almost everyone speaks in “good reasons”. You can’t argue with anyone.

“Why did you go to the store?”

“We needed toilet paper.”

Great reason.

Real reason: “Please let me out of this house for five minutes so I don’t have to hear that baby crying.”

Or at work:

“Should we use X software or Y software?”

“Let’s use X software. Y software doesn’t look as good.”

Good reason!

Real reason: “I don’t know how to use Y software.”

You can’t argue with good reasons. They are good for a reason.

But I always take the time to figure out the real reason in almost every conversation I have.

This is great for relationships, investments, parenting, work, everything.

“Why do I write?’

“Because I love telling a good story and helping people.”

Great reason!

Real reason: Because I want people to like me. Because I don’t like myself as much as I should and this is a way to get some approval and love.

Both reasons might be correct. But the real reason is always there, a thriving underworld life inches underneath the cool blue waves of the ocean.

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  • Oh, I really like this post. “ANSWER #2” is great; I always use that.

    Another thing I use along with that is: if you ask someone “the questions you are suspicious of”, if their immediate response is to pretend they didn’t hear you, that’s a good sign that they’re about to lie. Usually it’s “Huh?” – there is generally some kind of rudeness/abruptness to it, attempting to put you on the defensive for asking the question. What it’s really doing is buying them time to think of the lie.

  • Simon Huggins

    Nice contrast to two different ways of approaching lying – i.e. intentional and unintentional lying. There is a difference between lying to others and lying to yourself though. The ‘lying to yourself’ thing is the stuff that therapy is made of, but lying intentionally is different – it is designed to manipulate another’s view of the world directly to one that’s expedient. Except, of course, if you do a Sales job on yourself, which is when it becomes internalized in the form of justifications, and worse, a maladaptive belief system springing from the narrative on the world that is formed from doing that too often.