5 min read

For­mer Green Beret Sergeant Major (Retired) Karl Erick­son has faced all kinds of liars: com­bat­ive locals who don’t want to tell you where the bad guys are hid­ing, friend­ly forces who exag­ger­ate their capa­bil­i­ties to help, guys on your squad who don’t want to admit how bad­ly they messed up, the list goes on and on.

Over the course of his career, Erick­son has learned a sim­ple method, taught by John E. Reid and Asso­ciates, that any­one can use to help sep­a­rate sniff out a liar whether they are going to war or hir­ing a new employ­ee. Here are the steps:

Forget what you’ve seen in the movies.

“In the movies and TV, they always talk about the eyes. ‘If the guy looks upper right or upper left, they are lying.’ That might be true for some peo­ple, but what you have to remem­ber is that there are peo­ple who will do that just because they are scared or ner­vous, not because they are lying. You need to find each individual’s base­line for truth­ful­ness.”

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Get social.

“Do some fast research pri­or to the con­ver­sa­tion and learn some truths about this per­son. Go to their social media pages and find some easy things you know they won’t lie about: vaca­tions, cel­e­bra­tions — easy stuff like that. Then look for some oth­er stuff that might make them uncom­fort­able to talk about.”

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Start with the fun stuff.

“Watch their body lan­guage as they answer easy ques­tions that you know the truth about. ‘Do any­thing fun this sum­mer?’ If they answer truth­ful­ly about a vaca­tion and seem jit­tery, you now know that they’re just ner­vous and the jit­ter­i­ness doesn’t mean they’re lying. Watch where their eyes go, note if they clear their throat before they speak, do they lean back or for­ward?”

Slowly turn up the heat.

“Next, move on to top­ics that you think they might lie about, that you know the answer to. This may be some infor­ma­tion you read about their com­pa­ny online. If they lie, watch and lis­ten for what changed in their tone or man­ner­isms.”

Now go for it.

“At this point, you should have a good base­line for their body lan­guage and speech pat­terns when they are telling the truth. Now you can get into the ques­tions that you don’t know the answer to. Using what you now know about their behav­ior, you’ll have a bet­ter chance of ascer­tain­ing if they are lying or not.”

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Have a three-way.

“If you think some­one is lying, ask them the same ques­tion in three dif­fer­ent ways. You might think that it is to catch any dif­fer­ences in their response, but what I’m telling you to look for just the oppo­site: is there a script­ed aspect to their response? Do they use the same care­ful phras­ing over and over again? Politi­cians are amaz­ing at this. It allows them to answer the ques­tion with­out reveal­ing any­thing they don’t want you to know. If it feels like a pre­pared and script­ed response, that is a sign that they’re either lying or not telling you the whole sto­ry.”

Check their speed.

“Take note of how quick­ly they answer a ques­tion. Did they imme­di­ate­ly respond with­out giv­ing much thought? Think about a teenag­er stand­ing in front of his par­ents. If the par­ents ask him a ques­tion and the kid imme­di­ate­ly launch­es into an answer with­out think­ing, he pre­pared. He had a sto­ry ready to go for you, Mom and Dad.”

Have a second set of eyes and ears.

“When pos­si­ble, have anoth­er observ­er in the room. Have some­one pre­tend­ing to be an assis­tant sit­ting off to the side work­ing on a lap­top, or some­one pre­tend­ing to be an IT per­son. Your inter­view sub­ject will quick­ly for­get that they are in the room. That gives you anoth­er set of eyes pay­ing atten­tion strict­ly to this person’s man­ner­isms, some­one who can help you catch changes that you might have missed. While you’re watch­ing their eyes, you might not notice that they start­ed tap­ping their foot on the ground.”

Ultimate goal

“What this all allows is for you to make bet­ter deci­sions on part­ner­ships. For the most part, you don’t want to link up with liars, but you also don’t want to pass on a great oppor­tu­ni­ty because the guy had shifty eyes and it turns out he was just ner­vous. This method can help pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing.”


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