Career Watch: Better ways to spot liars

Q&A: Don Tennant

The former Computerworld editor in chief and co-author of the New York Times best-seller Spy the Lie discusses the art of detecting lying.

How good is the average person at detecting lies? Not very good at all, and there are a lot of reasons for that. For starters, we have a natural inclination to want to believe each other, because branding someone as a liar is pretty heavy stuff. Another obstacle is that we all have biases that have a huge impact on whether or not we believe people. You can't magically get rid of your biases when you speak with someone, but the methodology we present in the book enables you to manage them so you don't have to think about them in a deception-detection encounter. And there are a lot of behavioral myths that people tend to rely on when they try to distinguish truthfulness from deception. For example, it seems to be almost universally accepted that poor eye contact is an indicator of deception. But the fact is, eye contact is a very individualistic behavior that makes it very unreliable as a deceptive indicator.

How can we be better at spotting when someone is lying? By adopting a systematic approach that takes the guesswork out of the equation and filters out extraneous information so you don't have to process it. That includes ignoring truthful behavior. It seems rather paradoxical that you need to ignore truthfulness in order to uncover the truth, but it's an essential element of our methodology, which is a stimulus/response approach that has its roots in the polygraph experience. A polygraph detects physiological responses to a stimulus, the stimulus being a yes-or-no question. Our methodology examines verbal and nonverbal indicators exhibited in timely, direct response to a question. That way, you're able to prevent yourself from being influenced by information that may well be truthful but doesn't directly respond to the question. It also enables you to filter out what are called "global" behaviors, like body positioning and general nervous tension, the cause of which you can only guess at.

How should techniques like watching for "tells" be employed in the workplace? With the understanding that nothing in our book, or any other book, will make you a human lie detector, because there's no such thing. When you employ our methodology to spot deceptive behaviors in a situation where you're, say, interviewing a job candidate, speaking with an employee about unacceptable behavior or listening to the boss talk about the organization's financial performance at a company meeting, if you spot deceptive behavior, think of it as a heads up that the situation warrants further attention, rather than as a "Book him, Danno" moment.

Could someone read your book and erase all the tells from their conversational schtick? Nope. The methodology we're sharing can make you a whole lot better at detecting deception, but it doesn't make you any better at all at executing deception. As we explain in the book, you can certainly identify ways to try to avoid waving a red flag. But in any given encounter, there is so much conflicting information to process, and so many behavioral elements to consider, that your brain simply can't keep track of them all. You may be able to avoid exhibiting one deceptive behavior, but others will trip you up every time. We've found that our brains tend to do what they do, and we just follow along.

- Jamie Eckle

Monster Brings Facebook Into the Job Search

In an effort to make online networking easier for people looking for jobs, Monster has integrated its BeKnown app into its job search site. BeKnown connects to the job searcher's Facebook profile so it can inform the user about which of his friends are associated with a particular employer. It's still up to the job seeker, though, to reach out to the friends to see whether they can use their insider influence to help him land an interview.


That's the percentage of 2012 college graduates who are using social media to do research on potential employers. That's up from 15% for the Class of 2010.

Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers' 2012 Student Survey of almost 48,000 college students across the U.S.

Read more about management in Computerworld's Management Topic Center.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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