How to know if a colleague is a complete liar?

The idea is not to look for nervous tics, but language tics. (Photo: Drew Hays for Unsplash)

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Q. – “I have the unfortunate feeling that a member of my team often lies to my face. But I can’t figure out what it really is: he always has an answer for everything, even if he’s a bit of a stretch sometimes. How can I know once and for all if he is a master liar or if I am too suspicious? – Zakary

A. – Dear Zakary, exposing a liar is never easy, especially since it is easy to make a mistake. This is a dangerous exercise that can have serious consequences if a person who is trying to see clearly makes a mistake: accusing someone of being a liar when he or she is not. Nothing can be enough to spoil the atmosphere within a work team, and considering a person who compulsively lies a good person can be disastrous for the team and its performance.

In addition, there are tips for spotting liars. These tips aren’t foolproof, but they can help you see the truth about someone’s words or even make the perpetrator admit their lie. They come from a book entitled “The Mind Reader” by David Lieberman, an American psychologist who has become an expert in lying to the extent that he advises professional interrogators from the FBI, CIA and NSA, among others, on the subject.

David Lieberman’s first piece of advice is not to try to detect body cues that would reveal the core of your interlocutor’s thinking. Especially if you are not a professional examiner. You know, those little unconscious gestures like scratching your nose right when you’re lying like a dentist, or like avoiding the other person’s eyes when you’re caught in a lie.

“There are two reasons for that,” he explains. Primarily because compulsive liars know these little signs and prevent themselves from sending them to the person they are lying to. Then, because they are very easy to misinterpret: if you have a sincere person in front of you, but worried only because he feels that people are trying to find out if he is lying, he will unconsciously send you a lot of these signs, like scratching the back of his head or a little nervous shaking.”

It is actually better not to focus on “how” but on “what”. That is, the way the liar expresses himself, his expressions. “Because lying takes a lot more mental energy than telling the truth,” says David Lieberman. Which leads the liar to unconsciously resort to language shortcuts that allow him to avoid thinking too deeply, to drain too much of his mental energy.

Three simple and effective tips can help you spot red flags when someone is lying to your face:

– The liar likes to pontificate and philosophize. Any pontificating statement that expresses a sense of fairness or justice can be a sign of a lie. Pay attention to phrases like “It’s not supposed to be this way” and “We didn’t do it this way before.” Because they betray an unconscious desire to justify themselves, even if only to themselves. “No one considers themselves a villain,” explains David Lieberman. Even a villain thinks of himself, deep down, as a good guy who did something bad.”

– A liar uses statements that refer to himself. These statements occur when a person refers to what they have said or written with expressions such as “As I mentioned before” and “As I explained earlier.” A liar often uses them because they prevent him from giving incorrect information, from getting stuck in his lie. They enable him to keep the story simple and clear, thus saving mental energy or, as the author likes to say, “lightening the cognitive burden”.

– A liar likes to rely on simplicity. Honest statements often include complex sentence structures, with prepositions such as “except,” “without,” “but,” and “aside.” Because the person wants to be precise, to “prove”, if you will, that what he says is true. A liar, on the other hand, has a reflex of relying on simple sentences, without too much detail and information. Because his brain already spends a lot of energy developing and maintaining his lie, so much so that he won’t try to spend more adding a bunch of details that would probably, basically, reveal a pot of roses.

Keep in mind, however, an important point: a liar may use complex expressions, or even insert himself into sentences full of details, but then you will notice that these terms and details are completely insignificant, even useless; his idea is then to drown the fish in a multitude of details that his brain doesn’t have to worry too much about (if you come back to it later, it’s quite possible that the liar doesn’t even remember this or that given detail, however, barely five minutes ago!).

Here you go, Zakary. Focus on the language tics, not the nervous tics. This should allow you to finally see if your colleague is a complete liar or not.

By the way, the Persian poet Abolghassem Ferdowsi said in the “Book of Kings”: “A lie is the work of the weak.”

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