A wry view of life for the world-weary

The Meaning Of Life – Part Forty of Forty Two


How to spot a liar?

Having worked all my life in the financial services industry I have come across people from time to time who, to use Alan Clark’s delicious phrase, were economical with the actualité. Of course, many take the view that in certain circumstances it is kinder to conceal the truth, to tell a white lie or, as Oscar Wilde more eloquently put it, “a little sincerity is a dangerous thing and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal”. The contrary view is espoused in the lyrics to James Morrison’s ditty, Broken Strings, “the truth hurts, lies worse”.

Wherever you stand on this moral dilemma it provokes the question, how can you lie convincingly or, conversely, what are the warning signs that suggest that someone is not being entirely truthful? One route is to strap the other person to a lie detector. In some situations (many, on reflection) this may strike the person you are conversing with as being rather extreme behaviour and may engender an atmosphere of distrust that might not have otherwise been there. But the theory behind a lie detector may be of some assistance in that the underlying principle is that because telling a porkie is an unnatural activity the body subconsciously sends out signals that are suggestive of an internal struggle.

So here are some warning signs or tips.

There is a tendency to constrict your pupils when lying. If possible someone who is endeavouring to tell a pack of lies should arrange the seating and lighting so they can see the other person’s eyes but not vice versa. The average eye contact time when conversing is 75% of the time spent in conversation and the aspiring fabulist should aim to hit this target. I know this will be hard for accountants and actuaries but then that might just be the point. And don’t just stare at the pupils, the fabricator should look at the whole physog.

The successful liar needs to pay attention to their voice because it has a tendency to go flat when lying. The key to success is controlling pitch and resonance. Someone staring fixedly into your eyes and with a voice going everywhere is likely to be trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Body posture is another tell-tale sign. Concealing the truth tends to make the body more rigid and solid. To conceal that and say what you have to say whilst maintaining your normal body pattern is difficult, not least because you may not be aware of how people perceive you in normal circumstances.

Another tell-tale sign is when the person blushes. When you are feeling awkward your skin gets warmer and you feel an irritation around the nose and face. The only way to deal with it is to rub or lightly touch the affected area. Excessive hand-to-face contact is a good sign that something is not quite right. It is so automatic a reflex that all but the accomplished fabulist can control it.

Some research conducted by researchers from California State University I came across recently suggested a link between the urge to go to the bog and the ability to pass off a lie successfully. It is all to do with something called the inhibitory spillover effect. You are so concerned to avoid a spillover effect on your trousers that the body starts to exercise the level of self-control required to control the other tell-tale signs of the deceiver. If you are in a meeting and someone is drinking a prodigious amount of water and then starts squirming in their seat, beware is all I can say!

So now we know.


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