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Top Tips on Spotting Lying in the Workplace

Top Tips on Spotting Lying in the Workplace

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Last edited May 2, 2023

Top Tips on Spotting Lying in the Workplace

I remember a chap who came for an interview for a sales job a few years ago.  On his CV he had put down that he was fluent in French.  I was having one of those days, where a couple of things hadn’t gone my way, and in a fit of unprofessionalism and immaturity (it was a long time ago!),  I decided to be a little mischievous.

Having lived in France for 7 years my French was pretty good and I decided to open the interview in French; it became pretty clear that he had lied on the CV, and his spoken French was virtually non existent.  Even allowing for the fact that the question “What is your view of President Hollande’s foreign policy?” is a bit of a stinking question for a guy who had applied for a Customer Service Manager’s job in the North West of England, he had not told the truth on  his CV.

So if he was prepared to lie on his CV, would he be trust worthy in the workplace?

The story has a happy ending: he admitted that he had added it because he felt he came across as uninteresting on paper, he did a great interview and got the job (as well as apology from me for underhand selection techniques!)

Lying and untruths happen all the time in the work place, and not just at interviews. Research suggests that 80% of us have lied at interviews and 50% have lied to their boss at some time.

So how do we spot this?

If we accept that trust, and openness and honesty are key aspects of teamwork, what clues are there to help us know if someone is not telling the truth?

In the old days, it was easy to find out – get out the red hot poker. Get someone you think might be lying to lick a red hot poker 3 times. If they weren’t lying they would have enough saliva to prevent burning. The liars would have drier tongues which got stuck to the poker. Things were much simpler in those days!

Most of think that the symptoms of lying include a number of the following:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Squirming or shifting in their seats
  • Sweaty hands
  • Rambling answers
  • Agitated gestures
  • Longer noses

However research has showed that people who are not telling the truth are no more outwardly (nor inwardly) anxious than others.  Rather we should be looking out for people doing things that correspond with thinking hard. This would include:

  • Less gesturing
  • Above average repetition
  • Shorter and less detailed answers to questions
  • Pausing and hesitation
  • Using ‘I’, and ‘me’ less
  • Evasiveness

So the skill we need is the ability to listen and ask the right questions and dig deeper. One other thing to note is that lying is reduced when people are required to put things to paper.  Research by Cornell University showed that in comparison to in emails, people lied almost three times more in phone conversations and twice as much in face to face situations. So if in doubt get them to clarify things in writing.

And if we do unearth someone who has not been telling the truth, before we unleash ourselves, perhaps we should step back and challenge ourselves as to why people in our team feel the need to cover something up.

As Stephen Covey suggests: “seek first to understand…”

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