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How to spot a lie in the workplace

One of the personality traits that employers value the most in the workplace is truthfulness, but yet study after study suggests that many candidates begin lying before they even actually have the job!  One study, for example, found that approximately 40 percent of resumes contain some form of a ‘substantial’ mistake, be it a candidate over-exaggerating their experience or even their duties with a previous employer (and that’s on the milder end!)

A meta-analysis of more than 200 studies showed that, on average, we are able to detect lies a little over half of the time, which puts at just over guessing in terms of getting it right when we suspect someone isn’t telling the truth.

Enter Michael Johnson, a former attorney with the Department of Justice and CEO of Clear Law Institute, who recently gave a speech at the SHRM conference and exposition on figuring out when a liar is in our midst. Specifically, he identifies the five following tips for seeing if someone is telling the truth, be it during the hiring process or over the course of a workplace investigation:

  • Use open-ended questions:Start questions with either “describe” or “how” to allow someone to explain themselves. Asking questions where a “yes” or “no” answer is acceptable gives you very little to work with.
  • Prepare a script:Where time allows, write down your questions ahead of time to help keep you on track and phrase the questions as you originally intended.
  • Keep it relaxed:Stress and nervousness aren’t necessarily signs of a liar; rather they are more likely an emotional response at perhaps being questioned at all. With that in mind, don’t pull a “bad cop” and making it an interrogation; rather, try to keep the conversation as relaxed as possible.
  • Listen for verbal cues:Catching a lie is tough, but there are clues you can pick up, such as pauses before answers or avoiding a question, that can be indicative that someone isn’t being entirely truthful. In addition, Johnson recommends having someone repeat their story in reverse to try and catch any inconsistencies.
  • Keep cool:If you catch someone in a lie, don’t call them out as they will shut down. Instead, allow them to commit to their stories, and document all you can of what they say and then take action at a later date.

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