How can you detect deception and spot a liar? Project managers need to ask people to do things, get their opinions, and work in a political environment. So, sadly, you will find that people lie to you.
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There’s no sure way to tell if someone is lying – but there are plenty of myths about it! But this does not mean that there are no ‘tells’ that, together, can give you clues. Let’s look at some of the myths and facts behind the language of lying.
The most common myth of all: liars don’t look you in the eye.
Wrong, wrong, wrong!
It is so wrong that the opposite is true. Liars know this rule and exploit it so that, if anything, they will look you in the eye more. There is no reliable correlation.
But eyes do convey information. If you ask a simple closed question where the answer should be obvious, a truther may look away for a fraction of a second, but a liar may look away longer while concocting a story to justify their answer.
Fear is a bigger factor for a liar than a truther. So you can expect the physiological responses of fear – wide eyes and dilated pupils – to be more evident. But beware – dilated pupils can also indicate attraction or just low light levels.
Liars want to limit their lies, so will qualify them with words like ‘sort of’, ‘maybe’, ‘I think’. And liars use fewer contractions when lying, saying things like ‘cannot’ rather than ‘can’t’ as if trying to appear deliberate.
But note that some regional and cultural speech groups have greater or lesser use of these contractions too.
Liars are often uncomfortable and therefore hyper-aware of everything they say. This can result in more formal styles of speech that they would usually use. This includes over-precision about unnecessary details (to go with convenient gaps in their memory, when it suits them).
It also means they tend to say things like ‘I did not’ rather than ‘I didn’t’. They tend to use contractions like this less often when they are lying.
When we’re nervous, we fidget, and you would expect liars to be nervous. What we actually see is less movement in posture, particularly in the head, upper body, and arms. They will often grip their hands together, or onto an object, to control unconscious movement.
Another example of a physiological response is the raised pitch of our voices when we are stressed. If you put a liar under stress, their vocal tone will go up, and they will run out of breath more often, causing more hesitancy.
…to stop the lies from getting out.
This is another old chestnut that ‘everyone knows’, including liars. It’s possibly why liars hold their hands still, to avoid this impulse.
But the fact is that the eyes and forehead will tell you more. Look out for unexpected facial asymmetry as a sign of deception. And also look out for unnatural stillness and reduced use of gestures, as I mentioned before.
I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own.
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Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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