With a focus on cheaters, this presentation covers the basics of the mechanics of lying and ways to break a liar.
Types of lies fall into four categories. The four categories are: omission - leaving something important out of the story; commission - fabricating a story; embellishment - adding a few "extras" to the story; and transference - co-opting pieces of someone else's story.
Let's focus on the first two types, which are what cheaters usually rely on.
Jessica (to her boyfriend Dan): "Where did you and Chad go last night after the movie?"
Dan: "We had a drink at Zola and then went home."
Dan omits the part where he met a sexy cocktail waitress and had a nightcap at her place after Zola closed.
Chad (to his girlfriend Jill): What did you and Jessica do after the concert?
Jill: "We were hanging out in the lobby and the bass guitarist stopped to talk to us as he was on his way out of the theater. Then she and I left, had a drink at Posh and then came home."
Jill actually went backstage and flirted with the bass guitarist, who took her out for a drink at Posh... for starters. Chad asked a very specific question that enabled an easy omission from Jill, but instead she invented a story.
Notice that both of these lies involved other people--keep that in mind later when we talk about breaking a liar.
Notice something else: These cheaters were ready with their lies; they were canned and ready to deliver. When we get into the mechanics of lying a little more, you will see how some of the more unprepared liars try to get away with their deceit.
Maryann Karinch and Gregory Hartley are the authors of How to Spot a Liar [Career Press Publishers, $15.99].
Cheaters tend to omit pertinent details and/or invent part of the story. Lies of omission violate expectations. When Chad asks Jill, "What did you and the guitarist do?" she replies, "We talked about my songwriting for a while and then I left." This jumps over the juicy parts and uses a bit of the truth to masquerade the indiscretion. Lies of commission come apart easily. If Dan went home after his drink at Zola, he had the opportunity to watch Jimmy Fallon, which he usually does. A simple, "What did you think of Jimmy's opening bit?" could be enough to catch the liar.
Let's start by cracking the lie of omission. Keep in mind that even lies of commission typically involve omission of facts. You can start to unravel the story by asking fill-in-the-gap questions. If Jessica asks Dan what time he left Zola, he can be honest, meaning that he will have a gap of time between leaving the bar and arriving at his home. Or, he could commit a lie of commission and say that he left later than he did. When the omission is an event, the time gap can become obvious quickly. The omission might also be an emotional response, though, rather than an event. When Chad asks Jill about her encounter with the guitarist, he should pay attention to her body language. She will likely show signs of stress if her omission in the story is her indiscretion with the guitarist.
Telling lies of any type typically involves stress for people, and breaking a liar involves looking for signs of that stress. One response to stress is the use of adaptors, that is, actions to release the nervous tension and increase a person's comfort level. Jill might start playing with her hair and rubbing her fingers together when questioned about the guitarist--those are adaptors. Men tend to have more pronounced adaptors, such as rubbing their hands together as if they are washing them, or seeming to massage their neck. In telling Jessica that he went home after having a drink at Zola, Dan might run his fingers through his hair--a grooming action that can be an adaptor.
Another response to stress is the use of barriers. Examples include angling your body away from another person, putting something between the two of you, or just closing your eyes partially as if to block out the other person. Jill takes a few steps away from Chad and sits down on the other side of the kitchen table when he asks her about the guitarist. Dan's response to a probing question about his evening evokes a turn away from Jessica, giving her the proverbial cold shoulder, which is using the body to barrier.
Now let's turn to the liar who fabricates a story, or part of a story. In addition to looking for signs of stress, look for two things: eye movement that suggests the person is using imagination rather than recall, and use of "tools of the liar." Before you can even understand what eye movement is telling you, though, you need to baseline the person. That is, determine how the individual reacts in a stress-free situation. Baselining enables you to create a picture for yourself of the person's natural communication style when talking about non-stressful topics. Once you know how to baseline, you can detect stress, or loss of control, with certainty.
In a real way, eye movement signals that you are looking for answers inside your head. Distinct portions of the brain process data in different sensory channels. The visual cortex is at the back of the brain. The structures of the brain responsible for processing sound are over the ears. By asking questions that target a particular sensory channel, you can drive your source to access that channel. Jessica could baseline Dan by asking him to describe his favorite scene from the movie he saw with Chad. Let's say he looks up and to the left as he's recalling the scene and describing it. She then knows that when he looks up right, he is accessing imagination, not recall. Not a sure sign of lying, but a sure sign that he's making up something.
Tools of the liar can be intentional or unintentional. One that's tends to be intentional is the redirect. A redirect manipulates your focus. It takes your attention off the lie or moves your attention to another subject that the person has no need to lie about. Passion, turmoil, and clever use of language are a few big ways to effect a redirect. Chad wants to know more about Jill's post-concert encounter with the guitarist because he sees she's showing a little stress in talking about him. He asks her how long she and Jessica got to chat with him in the lobby before the two of them went to Posh for a drink. She notices a wet towel on the floor and tosses it at Chad. She throws her arms in the air and says, "I can't believe you left this here again!"
Among the unintentional techniques a person uses to lie are blame-sharing, text bridges, and answering a different question. Jill might be rolling along in her concert story, saying "I loved the last song" and "I think the acoustics there are great." But she starts talking about the guitarist, she switches to "we asked about..." and "we told him...". Text bridges, a term coined by former FBI behavioral analyst Jack Schaefer, show up in conversation when someone wants to skip over details. Dan says to Jessica, "After I got home from Zola, I saw your text on my phone." He would have seen it sooner if he hadn't been with the cocktail waitress. Answering a different question is what Jill does here: "Did you invite the guitarist to have a drink with you?" Chad asks. She replies: "Posh has a fabulous new drink menu."
Now for a couple of tips on breaking a liar. First, involve someone else. Unless the cheater has put a lot of planning into the deception, lying isn't a team sport. In the two scenarios in this presentation, both cheaters were with someone else for part of the evening. Chad's asking, "What did Jessica say about this guitarist?" reminds Jill that another person was involved and could easily spill a contradictory story. Second, ask questions in reverse. Even people who've rehearsed a lie don't generally rehearse it backwards. Jessica playfully asks Dan which pajamas he wore to bed last night before she works her way back through the evening to establish timeline and sequence of events. She might even skip from the pajamas back to the movie to his drive home in her search for missteps and gaps.
If everything points to a cheater, look for tell-tale signs that something is different in the person's life. Humans are designed for rituals. We use them to relieve stress, lure a mate, connect us to God, and make us socially acceptable. Individuals and couples have rituals around food, sex, and sleep, as well as mundane parts of daily life. A man who comes through the door 6:30 most days, throws his keys on the counter, and asks how your day was has a coming-home ritual. He breaks with that ritual if, one day, he comes home at 7:30, stuffs his keys in his pocket, and heads for the shower. It doesn't mean he's cheating, and it doesn't mean he's lying, but the break with ritual signals that something is not the same for him.