Liars Overview

You Can’t Lie to Me w/ Chris Ulrich

People tell lies for a million personal reasons, but most boil down to one of three essential needs: To protect themselves, To avoid tension and conflict, To minimize hurt feelings.

Now, if everyone lies, and we all know we all lie, why is it still not easy to detect these lies?

Again, there are many individual reasons, but they, too, boil down to three realities:

-Many of us don’t want to know the truth (denial is a powerful de-motivator).

-Many people are really good at covering up lies.

-Most of us are looking for the wrong deception signals.

We are able to investigate and identify probable lies with a fairly good degree of accuracy if we know the correct process to follow.

Statistics show that…

– 80 percent of lies will go undetected.

– Nine out of ten people who apply for jobs overemphasize, or downright fabricate, positive traits about themselves.

 – Between 66 and 80 percent of college students admit to having cheated at some time in their school careers.

– Since 1991, lifetime infidelity among men over sixty has doubled. In women, it has tripled.

– About 20 percent of men and 15 percent of women under thirty-five have cheated on their partners.

In those ages eighteen to twenty-five, the percentage is closer to 30.

– Adult men and women lie in one out of every five social interactions; for college students, that number is one in three.

Three Step Process to Decode Deception

Step 1: Baselining

Baselining is a very short stage in which you establish rapport with the “‘suspect”’ and then as a short series of open-ended questions while you study him closely to get a quick take on his normal behavior. Baselining is the foundation of the detecting deception. If you don’t get a baseline, everything you do from that moment on is simply guesswork. It is the skill that separates the pros from the wannabes.

Step 2: Stop on the Hotspot

A hotspot is  deviations from normal behavior and could be indicative of deceit.  When there are multiple signs of verbal and nonverbal deviations from a person’s baseline behavior we have a cluster.  This is why the baseline is so important because the deviations set us up to ask powerful questions to help us get to the truth.

Step 3: Go to a Powerful Question

An interrogation is not a true/false test—it’s more like an essay. Yes or No questions are typically dead ends. You only ask those in very specific moments. Using open ended questions aimed at getting the person talking is crucial. Using: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How. Then, keep going just for sheer quantity.  Here is where the baseline comes in—you’re looking for those deviations that come when people seem slightly uncomfortable.  Any time anyone deviates from that nonverbal baseline, say to them, “Maybe I’m wrong here, but it seems like there’s more to the story.” Or “Maybe I’m wrong here, but you seem a little anxious about your meeting later.” etc.


Listen to changes in vocal tone.Unlike almost any other signal, vocal tone is a consistent source of accurate information—95 percent of people change their speech rates, volume, and pitch when lying.

Remember your baseline. Any possible deceptive (or honest!) signal here could very easily be part of the person’s normal baseline. You must have that to compare with to get an accurate reading—be patient!

Inattentive Blindness

“Inattentive blindness” can get in the way of our ability to see the truth. It is literally when we fail to see something right in front of us while focusing on something else and is the result of lower working memory capacity, a measure of how much information people can process at any given time.  Inattentive blindness can make you miss some key details—but it can also help you observe a target while he or she is totally oblivious.

Powerful Liars vs. Average Liars

People in power find it easy to lie, mainly out of greed. And people without power find it difficult to lie but sometimes will do it out of desperation. When our BS Barometer starts to go off, we have to stay vigilant and ask ourselves, “What’s in it for them?” And then, before we confront them, ask, “What’s at stake for me?”  Physiologically, we see dramatic changes in cortisol levels between powerful liars vs. average liars.  And power can be defined by any situation in which a person has an advantage over another.

Taking Care of Business – Liars are on a tightrope.

Your liar just wants to get to the other side as fast as possible. He or she use teeter-tottering, convince-not-convey, and backsliding tactics to do so—but you will be prepared to take care of business!

  • Teeter-Tottering. You know how a kid on a balance beam might suddenly throw a leg out to one side to compensate for a weight shift on the other side? You’ll often hear this same kind of “teeter-tottering” when people are lying. Their speech wobbles around, deviating from its normal baseline patterns, suddenly shifting in odd, uncharacteristic ways.
  • Convincing-Not-Conveying. For some liars, the stress of the tightrope spurs them to fight! They charge ahead, full blast, and try to overwhelm you with the brute force of their lie. They puff their language up with lots of absolutes and extreme language and rush at you full speed, playing their “role” to the hilt—anything to avoid teeter-tottering.
  • Backsliding. For other liars, the stress of all this wobbling is almost too much. All they want to do is run and hide. While teeter-totterers tend to steadily make it through the lie, willing themselves not to fall, Backsliders are a bit more reticent and subconsciously minimize themselves, trying to hide the truth or retreat from the conversation to make themselves seem smaller.


Micro-expressions: We can use these expressions to study a person’s nonverbal facial faux pas, and notice any suspicious variations from their baseline of behavior.

  • Nearly fifty years ago, researchers of nonverbal communication discovered that all humans share seven universal emotions: happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise, anger, and contempt.
  • These can be seen in microexpressions that are universally hard-wired into us primates and have been studied in human populations from the United States to Japan to Papau New Guinea. These automatic expressions are the same whether you are male or female, black or white, young or old—it makes no difference; if you are surprised, you make the same expressions.
  • These microexpressions may only leak out for one-fifteenth of a second—literally a flutter of your lashes. While these micromovements can be a challenge to spot, learning to see these fleeting emotions is incredibly useful because each of these emotions registers with very distinct patterns that are almost impossible to fake. Consciously moving one of the more than forty intricate muscles in our face is hard to do, hard to manipulate, hard to disguise—for everyone.
  • All of these reasons make spotting microexpressions about the closest thing we have to mind reading.  Now, mind you—we still can’t know for sure what the catalyst was that sparked the leakage of those emotions.  But if we see the microexpression, the person is definitely feeling that emotion and we can ask open-ended and powerful questions to check for deception.


Statement Analysis: Drilling down to expose the meaning behind the words. While body language has been the focus of lie detection for decades, recent research has proven that a detailed analysis of a person’s speech may be much more accurate than an observation of nonverbal behavior.

No matter how well-formulated and executed a lie is, there will always be verbal indicators of deception lurking in and around the words a liar chooses.

  • When we use statement analysis, we learn what these are by asking key questions such as these: Do the person’s expressions (and gestures) match the words coming out of his mouth? Is the person talkative and animated or flat-out refusing to talk? What specific verbal flags is she raising that should make you sit up and pay attention to what comes next?


Researchers have come to understand that an “information-gathering” style is the most effective interrogation technique. Open-ended questions (such as, “What did you do this morning before breakfast?” or “Did you run into anyone you knew at the store today?”—see more in will allow you to gather as much data and “facts” (or lies) as you can at once. A recent review in Psychological Science in the Public Interest tells us why this information-gathering style works best:

When you get more information, you get more opportunities to drill down into someone’s story and spot the weak spots and inconsistencies. When you get people talking for a while, you get to see more nonverbal cues—even though they cannot be your entire “proof” of wrongdoing.

The more words people say, the more you can use statement analysis to see the changes in tense, pronoun usage, distancing language, and all the other tricks you learned in the wiretap chapter. Information-gathering interviews are more conversational, so they don’t feel as threatening and are less likely to cause hot spots related to anxiety.

If you launch into an interrogation convinced you are correct—as in the “Why don’t you just admit you did it!” style—one gathers less evidence and can get trapped in a one-track mind. Information gathering leaves us open to other explanations that we may not have even considered yet.

The conversational style of information gathering followed by close-ended questions later can be more effective because of the rapport already established.