16-14 Segment 2: The Whole Truth: How do you know if someone is lying?


Synopsis: How do professionals question people to get the information they want? We talk to a specialist on interrogation and lying about this topic, and how law enforcement and job interviewers use the same tactics to get to the truth and find out if someone might be lying to them.

Host: Marty Peterson. Guests: Maryann Karinch, a human behavior expert and author of the book, Nothing But the Truth: Secrets from top intelligence experts to control the conversation and get the information you need.

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Liar, Liar: How to get to the truth

Marty Peterson: Abraham Lincoln once said that “No man has a good enough memory to make a successful liar.” In other words, if you lie, you’ll eventually be found out, because it is just too hard to keep your facts straight. It’s also very difficult to keep your body from giving you away. Small gestures, rapid heartbeat, facial expressions can all reveal if you’re being honest or not. Trying to get to the truth from criminal suspects, job interviewers and spymasters is an art, and one that interests Maryann Karinch. She’s a human behavior expert and author of the book, “Nothing But the Truth: Secrets from top intelligence experts to control the conversation and get the information you need.” We asked her about the nature of truth and lies, how to tell if someone isn’t being honest with you and how the experts learn to converse with others to find out what they need. So what is “truth”? Karinch says it’s not the same as “facts”…

Maryann Karinch: I look at truth as kind of like white light. It’s a combination of everything. It’s not just facts. In fact sometimes you can get the facts and not get the truth. Because truth weaves in human experience, intuition and all kinds of other human elements that are very important to get the complete picture.

Peterson: So if truth can be subjective, and you test someone’s statement against the facts and find that it’s different, how do you know if they’re lying?

Karinch: We don’t want to allow so much leeway that somebody’s version of the facts is going to be accepted as the truth. So there are ways that you can test to see if somebody is intentionally lying to you. That’s really the crux of it – is whether or not that person is deliberately telling a story that is a deviation from the truth. So it doesn’t make it that person’s truth, what it makes it is a lie. And that could be an embellishment, it could be an omission, it could be any version of what the truth is. So what we need to do at that point is not make too many allowances, but say, “All right, is this deliberate or not?”

Peterson: Karinch says that the answers that a subject gives…or doesn’t give…can be very revealing. Take the interview that newsman Brian Williams did with Edward Snowden, the former CIA contractor who leaked thousands of classified files…

Karinch: The questions that Brian Williams posed to him that were “yes” or “no” questions were not answered with “yes” or “no” answers. So red flag would be I ask you a straightforward “yes” or “no” question — can you, would you, did you — and instead of telling me “yes” or “no,” you move through an explanation of something or repeat the question, sidestep it somehow so that I never get a clear “yes” or “no.”

Peterson: Sometimes it’s best to rephrase the question to get someone to open up more. But how long do you go on rephrasing and asking the question before you quit? Karinch says that “three strikes and you’re out” is the rule of thumb. However, if you can build trust – a rapport – with the subject, then there’s a good chance you can get them to open up to you. The key to building that trust is determining what their motivation is…

Karinch: There are a lot of different ways to do that so that hopefully you can get to know the person well enough and get to understand whether or not the person is motivated to tell you the truth or to be protective. There are lots of situations like job interviews where the person might want to be very protective of information, so the motivation is to get the job – that’s pretty clear. So what you want to try to do is to establish a level of trust and connection. Sometimes you can do that with a quid pro quo. So I tell you something that seems to be a little personal about me, then you are probably going to be more forthcoming about something that’s personal and then I get to know you better and then I get to understand your motivations a little bit better.

Peterson: You can also create a baseline of relaxation by asking some neutral questions about the weather or the drive to the interview…

Karinch: And then get a sense of what’s normal, how does she sound when she’s telling the truth and fairly relaxed? Look for deviations from that and see if there might be tension. And the tension could related to maybe a shift in motivation it could relate to an embellishment about a statement. Usually normal people will show stress if they’re stretching the truth or telling an out-and-out lie.

Peterson: Karinch says that another way to nurture a successful conversation is to use motivators such as flattery…

Karinch: One of the conversation motivators is “pride and ego up,” that’s how you would describe it if you were an interrogator. And it just means flattery. But it also means that you could take someone down a notch. Flattery generally will help the connection with most people, they want to feel complimented. So you make them feel more important perhaps, especially if it’s a hostile witness, you want to try to make the person feel important, feel as though the information that he or she has to offer is very important. That should nurture a connection. But then you could also do the opposite, and make that person feel much smaller, less worthwhile, as though the information she has to offer doesn’t matter. That’s a “pride and ego down.” And what you want to do immediately after that is, because severing a connection or at least starting to sever a connection, do something after that to pull the person back to you. Return a compliment a little bit after that.

Peterson: Curiosity is also a tactic that can get a reluctant subject to open up…

Karinch: If you want to try to figure out if a person is not forthcoming will talk to you, try to get that person curious about what you have to say next. Let that person know that you’re very curious about what he or she has to say. Try to arouse curiosity in something, say plant a seed, “I know something that you don’t” and I’m going to plant that seed, and you’re going to curious and maybe you’ll start talking to me then.

Peterson: One strategy that’s especially frustrating for a subject is silence – that gap in the conversation that can get someone talking and maybe even revealing more than they intended…

Karinch: People hate silence. In different cultures it works different ways. It might be three seconds for us and six seconds for someone in Japan, but it’s only a matter of seconds and there’s a certain level of discomfort that creeps in and all of a sudden somebody has to say something. In a meeting it works very well, because people’s tolerance levels will be different. So all of a sudden there’s silence, and somebody will chirp in with something. And occasionally, if it’s a one-on-one, the something will be something meaningful. It will be a conversation starter that has relevance because you can maybe detect emotion of not information. You can know how a person feels. But people just can’t stand silence.

Peterson: Karinch says that our bodies will sometimes give our lies away. Automatic responses that most of us don’t anticipate and can’t control are often the crack in the armor that a savvy questioner can exploit…

Karinch: There are some people who when they are under stress, whether it’s a situation of being in front of an audience or whether it’s telling a lie or any stressful situation, and they blush. Other people, most of us revert to some sort of what we call an “adapter.” It’s a little nervous gesture that we use, a self-soothing gesture like rubbing your fingertips together, rubbing your neck, rubbing your legs, something like that that indicates that the person needs to relieve some stress. So you look for signs like that.

Peterson: There are also verbal signs that might also let the interviewer know that something’s bothering a subject….

Karinch: If someone is generally talking in a well-moderated tone, well-modulated tone, and the cadence is perfectly normal, the pitch is pretty even, and then all of a sudden starts talking really fast or really high, or slows down quite a bit as though searching for an answer, those deviations can tell you something that maybe the person is under stress. Doesn’t automatically mean lie, but that’s where you start to look for whether or not there might be a lie. And you use your questioning techniques, and listening and figuring out if there are any gaps in information. But you start from that glitchy behavior or that glitchy tone of voice. One way to gain an advantage in a conversation is to control the venue, either by meeting in your own space, or claiming a bit of their turf…

Karinch: We all value our personal space, and if you are in the boss’s office, for example, that whole office the boss considers his or her personal space. Particularly something like “the desk,” it’s like an extension of the human being, that is personal real estate. So there is a sense of control, a sense of confidence, “I own all of this; you are in my space.” So that can have a devastating psychological effect, and the person won’t even know it. I mean, we instinctively react if we go into somebody else’s space like that, it’s just uncomfortable. But if you can change that, you can move it, at least diminish the person’s sense of power, even if you don’t take it away completely. If you’re walking down the hall instead of being in the office, you’re diminishing that person’s sense of control.

Peterson: Karinch spoke to many of the most knowledgeable investigators and interrogators for her book, including Peter Earnest, founding Executive Director of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D-C and a 35-year veteran of the C-I-A. She says that the top interrogators are extremely skilled individuals who use logic and intuition to get the information that they need from the people they question. She adds, though, that we can all learn from of the tactics and strategies they’ve spent their careers perfecting for use in our own lives. To read up on just how, pick up Maryann Karinch’s book, “Nothing But the Truth” available at stores and online. She also invites listeners to her website at Karinch.com (http://karinch.com).   For information about all of our guests, log onto our site at Viewpointsonline.net Our show is written and produced by Pat Reuter. Our production directors are Sean Waldron, Reed Pence and Nick Hofstra. I’m Marty Peterson.