Leadership

Former FBI hostage negotiator reveals 3 ways to tell whether someone is lying

FBI Agents
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Lying starts early. By age 5, 90 percent of kids lie, says Dr. Kang Lee, a psychologist who specializes in the development of lying.

And we lie a lot.

The good news is, there are strategies you can use to spot a fib. In his book "Never Split the Difference," former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss highlights three ways to identify a liar:

Look for differences between what the person is saying and how they say it.

"Only 7 percent of a message is based on the words, while 38 percent comes from the tone of voice and 55 percent from the speaker's body language and face," Voss says. "Body language and tone of voice not words are our most powerful assessment tools."

To spot a liar, pay close attention to tone and body language and ensure they match up with what the speaker is actually saying. "Incongruence between the words and nonverbal signs will show when your counterpart is lying or uncomfortable with a deal," he says.

For example, if someone says "I don't have a problem with you," but scowls or avoids eye contact at the same time, chances are they're not being truthful.

Pay attention to flip-flopping.

To spot a liar, particularly during negotiations, pay attention to someone saying "yes" and then later saying "no."

"Maybe the party was lying to you, or maybe they were just engaged in wishful thinking," Voss writes. Regardless, use the "Rule of Three" to make sure the "yes" you hear is a solid "yes."

"The Rule of Three is simply getting the other guy to agree to the same thing three times in the same conversation," he explains, since "it's really hard to repeatedly lie or fake conviction."

To avoid sounding like a broken record when using this strategy, you can vary your tactics. Says Voss: "The first time they agree to something or give you a commitment, that's No. 1. For No. 2 you might label or summarize what they said so they answer, 'That's right.' And No. 3 could be a calibrated 'How' or 'What' question about implementation that asks them to explain what will constitute success."

Alternatively, you can simply phrase the same question in three different ways over the course of the conversation. For example: "What's the biggest challenge you faced? What are we up against here? What do you see as being the most difficult thing to get around?"

Watch out for wordiness and third-person pronouns.

"Most people offer obvious telltale signs when they're lying," Voss says.

For example, liars tend to use more words and complex sentences. "People who are lying are, understandably, more worried about being believed, so they work harder — too hard, as it were — at being believable."

Additionally, liars tend to use more third-person pronouns. "They start talking about him, her, it, one, they, and their rather than I, in order to put some distance between themselves and the lie," he says.

The bottom line: If you want to catch a liar in the act, look for the less obvious, subtle signs.