Friday, April 12, 2019

On How to Detect Deception: Book Review of Spy the Lie

Former CIA Officers Teach You How To Detect Deception
Deception is much more common than you may think; we can encounter it pretty much anywhere in all shapes and forms. It could be online and on television in the form of fake news or misinformation, it may be your teenage son or daughter, your spouse, your parents, and it may be even rampant at your work place.

In fact, it is at work where deception often feels most at home and sometimes even works overtime. As people want to gain the upper hand over their competing colleagues and since they wish to put themselves in the best possible light in front of their superiors, they may opt to spread gossip or even lie straight into your face.

Others are either too eager to please everyone at work by resorting to unabashed and bountiful flattery and hypocrisy, or they may constantly brag about how wonderful they are and keep mentioning and rubbing in their supposed accomplishments. Their aim is to climb up the corporate ladder, and since most of them are adept at manipulating and lying, and, more importantly, making you believe and swallow their lies, they indeed succeed.

In a much lesser degree yet undoubtedly to a certain extent, I see similar deceptive behavior among my college students. While a good majority of them are honest, some can come up with the most brazen and even shameless lies to attain passing or passable grades. At times, I marvel at their efforts of being disingenuous where in addition to downright lying, they resort to various inventive forms of cheating and plagiarizing. I just wonder if that skill and zeal had been applied to the work at hand, it would have most likely provided at least decent results.

But I shall not bore you here with the life of a teacher that can be both exhilarating and frustrating, so I shall get to the topic at hand on how to spot a lie and a liar. This is indeed a magnificently useful skill to have in life, especially since deception is so commonplace wherever you may find yourself. In the past, I would rely on my gut feeling or on visible and evident nonverbal cues to draw conclusions, but now thanks to the wonderful book Spy the Lie written by former CIA officers I can come to a better and much more accurate verdict.

Detecting deception is what officers in the field must engage in on an ongoing basis, and it is not only crucial but rather of utmost importance since the lives of people could be at stake. Throughout the years, these CIA officers have put together and developed a method to spot deception in others and now we can all reap the benefits from their research and personal experience in this handy and nifty book. 

I believe that this book should be mandatory for all police and customs officers as well as all those who engage in interrogations or interviews of various types, but it is also incredibly useful and helpful for those of us who simply want to know if others are being truthful to us or not.

So how do we know if somebody is indeed lying to us? Most of us engage in what is called global behavior assessment. What this entails is that we tend to look at the overall behavior, and then based on the data we have received, we make a decision. However, this is very cumbersome, often time-consuming as well as distracting. Instead, the authors propose to focus on salient and specific cues and signals of deception.

The nonverbal component is often emphasized in many books and television programs, but it is only part of it and can often be misleading. For example, when a person appears nervous in front of us or if they engage in closed body language, such as crossed arms, that may signal deception but not necessarily so. They might be nervous because that is their personality, or they just might be comfortable sitting or standing in that position.

The main thing is to closely observe the reaction to the question. If they have appeared relaxed and suddenly tense up or engage in closed nonverbal behavior when you pop the question, then that may be a sign of deception. In fact, the main takeaway here is to be attentive to any salient clues five seconds after the question has been posed.

That would represent their instinctive reaction to the question. In fact, we tend to think about ten times faster than we speak, so by the time you finished your question, the other person has already had time to process it and come up with an answer, either true or fabricated.

So what are suspicious gestures to look out for? They may be swallowing, clearing one’s throat or looking away immediately before answering the question, as well as grooming gestures, such as adjusting glasses, ties or shirt cuffs, and strands of hair with women. Interestingly, sweat management is another helpful clue. The sweat itself is not the problem nor the giveaway, but when they wipe it off, either with or without a handkerchief, then it becomes significant. 

Also, the deceptive person may suddenly tidy up their surroundings by adjusting and readjusting a cup of coffee or moving a pen from one side to another. All these behaviors are often unconscious ways of dealing with and dissipating anxiety.

Other nonverbal signals are what is known as behavioral pause or delay. If there is a significant or noticeable pause before a person answers, it may show deception. That of course depends on the question. If you ask a person what they were doing seven years ago on this day, they would need to pause and reflect; yet if your question was whether they had robbed a bank, there should not be any delay in proclaiming “No!” or “Of course not!”

There is also something known as verbal / nonverbal disconnect. Generally, our brains tend to connect the language with its matching gesture, but when you notice discrepancy, it may not be a good sign. For instance, the person says "no" while nodding the head. One must keep in mind that nodding and shaking heads may have different connotations in different cultures, so this should be taken with a grain of salt. They may also laugh or smile inappropriately while discussing a serious matter or issue and that is a potential red flag.

Another gesture involves hiding the mouth or eyes. If the person does the former, it may be a natural and instinctive way of covering up one’s lie, especially when they are responding to the given question. Also, when we are deceptive, we would avoid eye contact because we want to shield ourselves from the reaction of those we are purposely and intentionally lying to. 

Or the person might touch their face, bite or lick their lips, or they may pull on their ears. This occurs due to one’s anxiety as circulation focuses on vital organs and muscles in the fight or flight response. Hence the itchiness is caused due to a lack of blood in certain body parts, predominantly the surfaces of the face, the ears and the extremities.

Finally, to wrap up the body language cues, there are also anchor-point movements. If a person is sitting, the anchors would be their back and feet. For example, if a foot is in the air and moves or one’s hands are resting in the lap, that might be another method for dissipating anxiety. For this reason, it is best to interview or interrogate people in a chair that has wheels and with movable arm rests so that those behaviors can be amplified, hence making it easier to notice the anchor-point movements.

Throughout the book, the officers emphasize two important points. One that we need to have what is considered an L-squared view of the other person. That means we need to actively Look as well as Listen to their words and scan them for deceptive clues. Second, in order to reach a verdict, we need not just one but a cluster of deceptive behaviors. The more deceptive behaviors you can spot, the more likely the person is guilty of deception.

What should we watch out for when it comes to verbal content? There are various methods and strategies that are used to hide or conceal lies. One of them is simply the failure to answer a simple and straightforward question. That may occur because the person in question is trying to figure out just how to get way with their lie. Yet this behavior on its own and in isolation does not immediately spell out deception unless they are combined with other cues.

Another one would be denial problems. If the denial is expressed not just as a simple “no” but is accompanied and followed by statements like “I would never do something like that,” then you need to count it as a possible form of deception. 

In fact, the person may intend to deflect from the question and emphasize their position and reputation, neither one of which would be a good sign for them in this given context. In either case, if they add unnecessary details or elaborate their answers, it may point towards deception.

Another couple of tactics that potentially spell out deception is the reluctance or refusal to answer. This is the proverbial “I cannot answer the question” spiel or the suggestion that you’d be better off asking another person that same question. Or they might simply repeat and reiterate the same question: “So you’re saying that I cheated on the assignment?” This type of behavior is meant to fill in awkward moments of silence so that the person can gain time to come up with a good instead of a truthful answer.

This behavior can also come in the form of a nonanswer statement, like self-evident but dishonest statements of the ilk of “I’m glad you asked that,” “That’s a good question,” or “I knew you were going to ask me that.” This often demonstrates that the person is worried about something. Moreover, they might provide inconsistent statements or contradict themselves in the course of the conversation as they are trying hard and sometimes desperately to keep their story straight.

Or they may simply go into attack mode. Since they are afraid of being caught, they might as well accuse you of wrongdoing (in psychoanalytic terms known as projection) or they may attempt to impeach your credibility or competence with sarcastic and pointed questions such as “How long have you been doing this job?” This is also when kids burst out with their typical “Why do you always pick on me?” or “Why don’t you trust me?” In either case, not a good sign.

And then there are referral statements. They might refer to having already explained something or the person may claim that they have previously talked to someone else about the same issue. Through sheer repetition, they might get you to actually believe what they are saying. 

Or they might invoke religion and swear to God, which is generally not a good signal either.  And of course, there is the often used strategy of faking temporary amnesia with often heard statements like “Not that I recall …“ or “To the best of my knowledge” or  “Not that I am aware of” or even the staple answer of “As far as I know…” Of course, these answers may be valid in some cases, but in others, they are dubious if not downright suspicious.

Moreover, we also have qualifiers. There are two types of them, the exclusion and the perception qualifiers. Exclusion qualifiers are statements like not really, basically, for the most part, probably and the like. The second type of perception qualifiers involve statements like honestly, to tell you the truth, frankly or to be perfectly honest.

If you are honest, you do not have to say you are and why add the adverb “perfectly” there, for instance! What qualifiers do is they enable people to withhold certain information. You cannot just basically say the truth; you do, or you don’t for that matter, but we need to be aware that they may possibly be speech habits and patterns that we simply employ.

Finally, there are those highly popular and often used convincing statements. In that case, the deceptive person would give you a string of statements that are supposed to highlight their honesty, good standing or reputation so that they can convince you they are innocent of any type of wrongdoing. 

These people might point out that they are good and decent people, that everybody can vouch for their integrity, and that they have worked up a reputation in various fields of their lives. The goal here is not to provide information but to convince of their supposed personal integrity. And that is another major red flag.

That may be even noticeable in simple questions. If there was a theft at a company and people are interviewed for that reason, the truthful person would simply state their profession: I am an engineer, or I am a language instructor. The deceptive person might go into too many unnecessary details about what they do, what their responsibilities and duties are and how they have worked for various years at the agency or institution. That is already a potential warning sign that deception may be at work.

So there you have it! This book evidently contains many more examples and backs them up with personal experience as well as actual snippets of news items and interviews. If you want to put this to practice, you can watch video footage of famous impostors and liars, including but not limited to presidents like Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, or murderers like Ted Bundy, Susan Smith, or the Jinx’s own Robert Durst (yes, I’m pretty sure he’s guilty).

As with anything, the more you practice, the better you will get at it. And then you might even apply it onto the real world. But as the authors claim, this is indeed some superpower that you are given, and you must be careful with how you use it. You can apply it to anyone you wish, but it is advisable to avoid using it on your spouse or significant others. Just saying.

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