Having found myself at the age of 22 in a role designed to maintain public peace, gather information and keep people safe, I realised I needed to know about truth, lies and deception. I considered my level of expertise on the topic and with an honest perspective, I labelled it low. I felt certain about one thing, all humans tell lies. I knew that the policing career I had just embarked on was going to not only be packed with adventure, but also full of people hiding behind lies and misleading information.
I recognised that one of the core responsibilities of my new role as a Police Officer was conducting interviews and with that task came the complexity of unravelling truth from lies. I reflected on exactly how much training they had given us in the Police Academy in distinguishing truth from lies and as it turns out there was little to none.
Recruit training had equipped me with the ability to run for 6 kilometres without stopping, taught me to shoot a gun at a central point on a target and drummed into me the legal points of proof for at least 8 serious crimes.
In training I had seen autopsies, taken part in role plays where I had deliver death messages to a parent and I had also learnt how to twist someone's wrist behind their back until they buckled and fell to the ground. I knew how to give a dummy CPR and I also knew sections 458 and 459 of the Victorian Crimes Act fluently.
So if interviewing people and effectively distinguishing truth from lies were of such critical importance to my new role, why did I, and my fellow squad mates, know so very little?
I started to ponder on questions I couldn’t yet answer; "Why would someone give me critical information that was against their own self interest or that of others, just because I ask them to?” and “How would I know if it was the truth if I had little or no other evidence?”
One of the early tests of my ability to ask effective questions and spot truth or lies came a couple of months after graduation when working at Brighton Police station in Melbourne. Myself and my more experienced Senior Constable partner were called to a train bridge that spanned across the busy Nepean Highway in Gardenvale. The report was that someone was throwing rocks from the bridge onto the busy road and passing cars.
Long story short, let me just say that the young boy, around 11 years old, I was tasked with speaking to seemed ever so convincing. Whilst my partner chatted with 2 other teens further down the bridge, I questioned this lad until I was convinced he had nothing to do with the dangerous behaviour I was alleging. On reflection I'm not sure exactly how he swayed me away from suspicion and allowed me to let him happily run home to his mum.
My wise partner on the other hand was furious I had let him go and could not understand how I could possibly believe that this kid was not involved. I explained that "he was really believable, he told me he didn’t do anything and I just didn't feel he was involved." It turns out the 3 of them were all equally involved, plus a 4th one who ran off when he saw the police car arrive. I decided at that point that I desperately needed to fill the gap in my knowledge and awareness.
My experience in policing plus knowledge gained from working in sales, recruitment and leadership gave me a career good foundation. Now, with over 20 years in business with programs designed to help people to conduct better interviews with a focus on evaluating truthfulness and credibility, I am able to view the topics of truth and lies from many angles.
I now know there is more to the topic of truth and lies than just trying to teach people to be 'a human lie detector'. The topic is rather more complex and includes understanding ourselves better, our own filters, human behaviour and our own truth.
In my view, those working in any role involving the safety of people or property should have a solid grounding in the many facets of human behaviour, including understanding how to better read people and have better situational awareness.
Asking better questions, reading between the lines, understanding the impact your own behaviour has in any interaction, encouraging truth and spotting lies are not skills that you can master overnight. It takes ongoing education, practice and guidance to continue to develop a more comprehensive awareness, and even then it’s not an exact science.
This article is first in a series of three that aims to offer tips and insight for those involved in dealing with people where obtaining accurate information is important. Some of the tips come from courses that have been developed over the past 20 years, including the original Perceptive Interviewing® program. Other concepts are drawn from research by experts such as Dr Paul Ekman and from my experience teaching internally accredited programs in evaluating truthfulness and credibility.
Getting Started in Encouraging Truth and Spotting Lies
No matter the role you are working in, if you interact with other humans, then improving your skills in correctly reading behaviour and assessing credibility is beneficial. There is no down side to more accurately reading a person or a situation, particularly if you are making important decisions based on that reading.
One of the things I have concluded after 20 years of teaching these topics is that many people fail to realise the influence they have over how an interaction unfolds. The popular Perceptive Interviewing® training program has built on existing interviewing skills to new and experienced interviewers in a cross section of industries and created an awareness of the power we have to get different results.
I recall in the Police Force an experienced member storming out of an interview telling others that the suspect was completely 'useless' and there's no way that he was ever going to open up and share the critical information that was sought. I then watched as another, calmer, member took over the interview, with a completely different mindset and approach.
Within 30 minutes he had won the respect of the suspect which resulted in him being completely forthcoming with information. So, was it the 'useless' suspect or the 'useless' interviewer that caused the initial road block to obtaining the required information?
In subsequent articles I will provide tips to get you thinking about how you can reduce the likelihood that you will be lied to. I call this creating a truth-telling environment or paving the pathway to the truth. Make no mistake, if a person wants to lie to you or mislead you, it is totally their choice. However, you do have more power and more influence over this than you may realise.
I will also provide tips to help you notice things that people say or do that you may miss. This can help you in a number of ways including connecting better with people and more accurately knowing what someone is thinking or feeling.
As you embark on the journey to improve your skills in reading people, encouraging truth and spotting lies, let me start by dispelling 4 myths:
Myth #1 - Everyone lies.
Ok, so I can't bust this statement completely because we all do lie at some time at some level. The distinction I want to make is that not everyone lies BIG. It's difficult to put different types of lies on a scale but broadly speaking there are high stake and low stake lies. Not everyone tells the high stake lies, the ones about the serious matters that can have massive impact. These are the big ones which if caught could result in the end of employment, freedom, relationships, money or even life.
Myth #2 - Women can spot lies better than men
There is no sound research to support this. In fact, most people are terrible lie catchers. People are often wired in a way that they want to believe the liar. The truth can be difficult to accept so often we miss clues that are there in front of us as it would be too painful to know the truth. We often cooperate in the lie without realising it. Do you really want to know if your lover is unfaithful or if your teenager was really at a friends house last night?
Myth #3 - Psychopaths are perfect liars
Psychopaths are not necessarily more skilful at lying than anyone else, but they engage in other behaviours that can either charm, distract or confuse the listener so he often ends up wanting to believe them.
Myth #4 - Micro facial expressions are proof of lying
Super fast facial expressions can reveal an emotion that is being concealed, and that is a kind of lie, but it can depend on the reason for the emotion. Someone who is innocent may conceal fear, or anger about being suspected, not because their are lying or misleading you. Either way, it's a great skill to be able to notice fleeting emotions but be careful not to draw conclusions too quickly.
If you are interested in building interviewing skills and awareness, connecting with people, encouraging truth, spotting lies or asking better questions then register your interest.