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Another side of lying

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

by Morey Stettner

Columbia Business School recently hosted a “Spotting the Next Madoff” workshop. Participants learned “how to identify basic emotions in facial expressions and how awareness of these emotions can help one spot a lie,” according to the course description.

The TV show Lie to Me explores the same topic: how we can detect subtle clues in a person’s face, body and voice that may indicate lying.

A few years ago, I read a great New Yorker article about the work of Paul Ekman, a specialist in spotting liars. The article sparked wide interest in reading body language to uncover fibbers.

For managers, I think it’s more important to examine why people lie rather than when they lie. If you know a liar’s motivation, you can adjust how you speak, listen and think to reduce the likelihood that people will continue to make stuff up.

Managers may not realize that their behavior attracts liars. If you make people uncomfortable (by prying, for instance), they may hide the truth. If you constantly play topper and insist you’re smarter, better or more virtuous than others, they might lie just to keep pace with you.

If you really want to serve as a beacon for liars, ask seemingly earnest questions when you already know the answer. Better yet, pose accusatory inquiries that make employees squirm. Examples include, “What made you think you could go over my head to the CEO?” or “Did you intend to submit such shoddy work?”

By ratcheting down the urge to confront, belittle or undermine others, we can limit the lies that we hear. And that’s a safer bet than trying to read their hand gestures or facial tics.

Bottom-Line Idea

When someone rejects your suggestion, don’t just walk away. Ask, “What would lead you to reconsider?” This provides an opening for you to learn how the other person thinks—and may help you plug holes so that you deliver a stronger, more irresistible appeal next time. Effective negotiators ask twice as many questions as pushovers. So keep digging to find out how you can modify your strategy or presentation in the future.


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