How to Spot a Liar: Identifying Deceptive Behavior
Spotting a liar requires a good read on visual clues, but cross-examination and critical thinking are even better
By Daintry Duffy
December 01, 2005 — CSO —
We're used to seeing interrogation scenes on TV—the bare lightbulb, the sweaty, hostile detective, you know the drill. But how do investigations play out in the corporate world, when the questioner wears a suit rather than a gun holster, and the chilling environs of a police room are replaced by the bland layout of a corporate office? Here are four things to know about conducting interviews and interrogations that yield results.
Know What You're Stepping Into
An interview and an interrogation serve very different purposes, so treat them differently.
In an interview, the questioner is still gathering information. The investigation is ongoing. In an interrogation (like the made-for-TV vignette above), an investigator believes he already knows what the subject did. The goal is to get a confession or a confirmation about what happened from the subject himself.
Mixing interviewing with interrogation is a common mistake even among seasoned law enforcement professionals, says Nathan Gordon, coauthor of Effective Interviewing and Interrogation Techniques, who trains police and security officers on interviewing skills as director of the Academy for Scientific Investigative Training in Philadelphia.
During an interview, the investigator asks questions but lets the subject do most of the talking. An interview should last no more than 20 or 30 minutes, the length of the average person's keen attention span. The mood should be nonaccusatory. "Once you become accusatory in an interview, you have biased everything you are collecting. And when you ask informational questions in an interrogation, you're saying that you don't know whether that person did it," says Gordon. "You're looking at a disaster."
An interrogation on the other hand goes as long as is necessary. You do 95 percent of the talking, presenting your evidence and coaxing a confession from the subject. To be successful, you have to recognize the battle going on within a guilty subject and use it to your advantage. Subjects are torn between the desire to relieve their conscience by confessing and the fear of punishment. If you take a nonthreatening approach, you can diminish a subject's fear of punishment and increase his desire to confess. "My concept of an interrogation is that I know you did it and I'm here to help you," Gordon says. "I don't believe in yelling, screaming or threatening."
Watch What They Say—and How They Say It
It's a given that most employees who are brought into an investigative interview are going to be nervous, whether or not they have done something wrong. (Remember, they have also seen the cop shows on TV, and may have expectations—or if they have something to hide, seek to avert attention from themselves.) Asking simple questions like name, address, marital status, schooling and so on gives you a chance to analyze the subject's truthful behavior in this heightened state and establish your own authority. You should also take this opportunity to create some rapport with the subject and make a little conversation. Maybe you both went to the same school or live in the same town. "People who are alike, like," says Gordon. If you can get the subject to relax early on it will make any stressful or deceptive behavior she exhibits later all the more clear.