Five ways to get anyone to tell you the truth (plus find out who the most likely liars are)

We all know that James Bond is the smoothest spy around, but how is he able to find out where SPECTRE’s volcano lair is from hapless henchmen? We asked a former CIA officer to find out.

20th October 2015
Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in SPECTRE (MGM/Columbia Pictures)

Social psychologist Jerald Jellison famously claimed that humans are lied to 200 times a day. Little wonder, then, that reams have been written on how to spot a liar. But what do you do if you think someone has told you a fib? We asked former CIA officer Philip Houston, co-author of Get The Truth, who believes he knows how.

1. Keep them in short-term thinking

You need the person not to dwell on the consequences of their actions, otherwise they’ll worry about job loss, divorce etc. To achieve this, minimise the seriousness of the situation with statements such as: ‘It’s not the end of the world’ or ‘It’s a fixable problem’.

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2. Socialise the situation

Make the person feel that there are others in the same boat, so they don’t feel isolated. This can be done with a monologue that includes statements such as: ‘It’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before’ or ‘In our world, this is the sort of thing that happens all the time’.

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3. Make a direct observation of concern

Ask questions such as: ‘Something is clearly on your mind’ or ‘Help me understand what I am missing’. With more facts, make the transition to a direct observation of guilt: ‘I know the what and the who, but I need to know the why’. Or stronger still: ‘Based on the facts, it is clear you did it’.

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4. Focus them on telling the truth rather than on the action itself

The person needs to be convinced that the only way out of their current predicament is to be completely truthful to you. Here is an example of a useful statement: ‘This is a fixable problem. To fix it, we need to get everything onto the table. That’s the only way’.

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5. Slow your speech, talk softly and be polite

If you rant, the person will focus on your behaviour rather than their own and become resistant. Choose your words carefully. For example, ‘you took’ rather than ‘you stole’, otherwise you’ll conjure fears of job loss or prison and the person will quickly become defensive.

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What makes someone more likely to lie?

Their social class

US scientists have found that the upper classes lie more in negotiations and cheat to win money more than the lower classes. When asked about values, the upper class participants had more favourable attitudes towards greed, which may go some way to explain the correlation between social nobility and ethical ignobility.

They are pressured for time

Psychologists asked participants to roll a die and to report the result to determine their pay. Those given a short amount of time to report the outcome were more likely to lie. Experts suggest that when given more time, individuals are unable to inwardly justify lying and so they tell the truth.

They were raised by liars

Children lied to by adults are also more likely to lie. In one study, children were told there were sweets in another room. When the kids discovered there weren’t any sweets, they were more likely to cheat and lie in a subsequent task than children who were not lied to at the outset.

It’s the afternoon

We are more likely to lie in the afternoon than the morning. Studies show that we are 20 to 50 per cent more likely to be dishonest in the afternoon, by lying and cheating more in various tasks. Experts put this down to ‘psychological depletion’ – as the day wears on we become cognitively weaker.

They want people to like them

Studies show that 60 per cent of people lie at least once during a short conversation with someone new and on average tell two to three lies. Women are more likely to lie to make the other person feel good, while men are more likely to lie to make themselves look better.

 


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