Many people believe it’s possible to quickly spot a liar through eye movements, nose touching or some other ‘micro-expression’.
In fact, these methods are quite inaccurate and can be very misleading, particularly across different races and cultures.
Numerous studies have shown that even trained police officers fail to spot lies this way any more than if they had used pure chance.
Thomas Ormerod is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Sussex.
He has particular expertise in security screening and how to spot liars.
He works with airports and border officials who need to have robust measures in place and helps train their security teams.
Ormerod uses a different method that’s been found to be 20 times more accurate, identifying liars over 70% of the time in one study.
The secret lies in good, old fashioned conversation.
For example, by gently encouraging the deceiver to provide detail to their story, they tie themselves up in knots and holes start to appear.
Even novice security officers had up to 80% success by simply asking open ended questions and slowly building the pressure.
Yet why would this simple approach be so much more successful?
The secret lies in our basic human desire to be considered honest.
Humans are highly sensitive to the fear of disapproval and shame, depending upon the context.
When you know this, it becomes easier to leverage in others.
The need to be honest overwhelms the desire to lie when the potential loss or shame is too great.
This has some implications for the conversations brands are seeking.
Brands are trying to create relationships and ‘dialogue’ with consumers, particularly via social media.
This is great when there’s something positive to talk about.
When the story is less flattering then conversation mysteriously starts to dry up.
Clearly then, if you enter into dialogue you need to be prepared to tell the truth.
Or be prepared for the consquences of being less than forthcoming.
After all, spotting liars is pretty simple when you ask the right questions.