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Former Interrogator Shares 5 Behaviors Liars Exhibit and How to Handle Them Five deceptive behaviors to look for and how to respond to those behaviors when you encounter them.

By Lena Sisco

Key Takeaways

  • This article highlights five key behaviors that indicate someone is lying to you.
  • Armed with the knowledge of these deceptive behaviors, you can employ targeted questioning techniques and redirection strategies to uncover the truth.
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I often get asked how a former Human Intelligence (HUMINT) interrogator can help me transform into the business leader I want to be in a field that has nothing to do with investigating the criminal activities of terrorists.

Most of my clients work in human resources, employee relations, sales and finance-related investigations. They are entrepreneurs and business owners, C-Suite executives, coaches and auditors. I left the world of interrogation long ago and still use my HUMINT skills to lead challenging conversations with confidence and authority to accurately identify deception and go after the truth. In the past two decades of interviewing, I can accurately say that liars exhibit the same deceptive behaviors.

Here are five deceptive behaviors to pay close attention to and how to handle those behaviors when you encounter them.

Related: Use This Secret Military Trick to Tell if Someone Is Lying

1. Inability to answer yes or no

The easiest test to give someone you believe is withholding the truth is to ask them a yes/no question such as, "Are you being honest with me?" The reason is that truth-tellers typically answer a closed-ended question quickly and succinctly with a yes or no answer, whereas liars tend to avoid answering them.

For example, in the post-trial interview with OJ Simpson in 2016, the reporter asked OJ, "Did you ever have any [Bruno Magli shoes]?" OJ paused, took a deep breath and shrugged his shoulders as he said, "First of all, I would have never worn those ugly shoes." He never answered the question. If he was being truthful, he should have answered "no."

Liars tend to oversell a yes or no answer because they don't believe it is convincing enough. As a result, they will usually say "absolutely, always" for yes and "I would never" for no. Ask a closed-ended question and then listen to the response. Is it truthful or deceptive?

2. Missing "I" and "my" pronouns

Pronouns play a big part in detecting deception. The possessive pronouns "I" and "my" indicate that a person is taking ownership of what they say. Typically, liars will replace those two pronouns with other pronouns such as "you," "we" or "they" or avoid them altogether when they do not want to take ownership of knowledge or information.

For example, if you ask an employee allegedly involved in an ethics violation, "What happened?" and they answer with, "We're trying to figure out what happened." They could be avoiding responsibility because they didn't say, "I'm trying to figure out what happened." Remember Anthony Weiner? When he was lying, he said, "We're trying to figure out who sent the tweet from my account." He takes accountability for his account but NOT for trying to figure out who sent the tweet because he knew he sent it. A great way to handle this behavior is to ask, "You and who are trying to figure this out?"

3. Behavioral incongruence

Behavioral incongruence is the most accurate indicator of deception. It happens when our body language contradicts our spoken language. When we are being truthful, our words, voice, emotions, facial expressions and gestures are naturally in sync; when we lie, they are incongruent. Two great examples of behavioral incongruence that are easy to identify involve shoulder shrugs and head nods and shakes.

We will shrug our shoulders in uncertainty when we doubt what we are saying. If someone says, "I know exactly what happened," and they shrug their shoulders, you have a problem. They are doubting what they are saying — and so should you.

In most cultures, head nodding signifies "yes," and head-shaking signifies "no." If someone says, "I like your idea," but shakes their head sideways, they may not like it. When you see incongruent behaviors in someone, do not trust them. Instead, ask them, "Why should I believe you?" A truthful person will usually say, "Because I'm telling you the truth." Any other response should be suspicious.

Related: 10 Telltale Phrases That Indicate Somebody Isn't Telling the Truth

4. The smokescreen

A smokescreen is a ruse to disguise someone's real intentions or actions. People will try to avoid answering a question by taking the conversation onto a different topic, so you focus on their ruse rather than what really happened.

Here is an example: Drew Peterson, a former cop now in prison for murdering his third wife while his fourth wife is still missing, during an interview with Larry King, said that his marriage to his fourth wife was going through tough times because she was medicated for depression after her sister died. That is a great disguise to blame their marriage troubles on. He also claimed she ran away with another guy. Yet another cover-up to take him out of the investigation spotlight.

When you ask questions to discover the truth, if a liar doesn't want you to know the truth, they may try to disguise it and use a smokescreen to take your attention elsewhere. If you notice someone using a smokescreen, redirect the conversation to the topic in question!

5. How liars sound (pitch, rate, breathy)

To discover lies, you must focus on the words people say and how they sound. When most people lie, they become nervous, and their vocal cords can tighten, raising their voice's pitch. They also will unconsciously change the rate of their speech. Liars may try to speak faster to avoid being questioned, while others slow down because they struggle to think of what to say. They may be so worried that their cognitive abilities are lessening, so they will speak slower. Either way, in the past 20 years of listening to liars, I will say for certain that their rate of speech will change when they lie.

Finally, when someone is lying to you, they may begin to breathe heavily, and you will hear them becoming breathy. Essentially, they are out of breath because their heart rate has increased due to flight or fight. So, when you hear a change in how someone sounds, investigate it! Ask questions on that specific topic to uncover the truth.

These five behaviors are very accurate when deciphering between truth and deception. Reading about them has increased your awareness about them, so the next time you have a gut feeling that someone isn't being honest, ask yourself if they demonstrated one of these five deceptive behaviors.

Related: The One Interviewing Technique Guaranteed to Get You the Truth

Lena Sisco

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO and Founder of The Congruency Group

Lena Sisco is an expert in body language, communication techniques, lie detection, and leadership. She is a published author, keynote speaker, TEDx speaker, and TV personality. Lena is a former Navy Intelligence Officer and DoD interrogator and is certified in the Psychology of Leadership.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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