Before conducting an interview, the interviewer must understand the fundamentals of behavior as it relates to the act of lying. During the interview, the interviewer must be concerned with whether or not an interviewee is telling the truth and accurately describing his or her background, account or story. An interviewee may be able to lie successfully because the interviewer is not in tune with the interviewee’s non-verbal clues that indicate deception. Becoming aware of the manifestations of dishonesty is a vital skill in becoming a great interviewer.
Interpreting non-verbal behavior is the least understood element of communication. Between 55% and 65% of all communication between two people is conveyed through body language, while 30% to 40% of this same communication is carried in the tone of voice. This leaves less than 10% to the spoken word. Therefore, it should be absolutely clear that an interviewer must be concerned with a subject’s non-verbal responses. These silent clues may provide more information than his or her answers.
The subconscious and conscious mind act separately. Lying and simultaneously attempting to control the many different signals, emotions and other physical behaviors indicative of dishonesty is almost impossible for the unpracticed conscious mind. (Most people have a hard enough time keeping their stories straight!) An interviewee will experience some level of stress during an interview, which will create minor amounts of incongruent non-verbal behaviors. The signals we are concerned with tend to manifest themselves when the interviewee subconsciously feels the highest levels of stress, stemming from the fear that their lies may be detected. This increased stress induces telltale behaviors. The interviewee’s behaviors are the result of an unconscious attempt to protect or distance them from the source of stress, which in most cases are the interviewer and his or her questions.
Non-verbal behavior reveals itself in body positioning, gestures, eye contact, and facial expressions. Evaluating verbal responses involves awareness of tone, volume, and speed of speech. Other tactics include evaluating a subject’s attitude, use of various delay techniques (abnormal pauses between a question and the interviewee’s answer) and listening for verbal slips. While these clues can be indicative of an interviewee’s dishonesty, they cannot be used individually and separately in making a good appraisal of his or her responses. First, suspected behavior must be compared to a “norm” for the interviewee. And secondly, the suspected behavior must be evaluated in context with the discussion.
Establishing an interviewee’s “norm” simply means determining how this person responds to questions that he or she does not find threatening. For example, answering questions regarding one’s name, date of birth, or social security number should not be stressful, assuming that they are not attempting to conceal their identity. Other questions regarding their drive to the interview, the weather and other current events will help an interviewer begin to establish how the interviewee uses verbal and non-verbal behavior in non-threatening communication. During these neutral questions the interviewer, concerned with establishing a “norm,” should be evaluating the following:
- The amount of eye contact with the interviewer
- Body position, in relation to the interviewer
- How an interviewee uses his hands or gestures while speaking
- Other body movements
- Facial expression
- How quickly the interviewee responds to the interviewer’s questions
- The interviewee’s tone and volume of their voice
After spending time relaxing the interviewee, building rapport, and establishing a “norm,” the interviewer should then make the transition into questions regarding information contained in the accident report and claims file.
While asking questions about an interviewee’s background, such as prior employment, education, experience, criminal convictions, etc., it is now necessary for the interviewer to look for changes in the interviewee’s normal behavior in relation to the timing of his or her questions. For instance, when an interviewee, who has been maintaining eye contact with the interviewer, looks at the floor or away from the interviewer while responding to a specific question. This change in behavior may suggest that person was less than honest in his answer to that question.
Non-verbal behavior, which is different from an interviewee’s “norm,” that may indicate deception include:
- Breaks in eye contact including closing or covering the eyes and looking at the floor or other objects in the room. Conversely, some people may stare for unusual lengths of time.
- Stalling or “creating jobs” that delays an answer, such as looking at a watch, picking lint off of clothes, adjusting glasses, etc.
- Stress, created while lying, increases blood flow in the ears and in the nose. It is very common for a person to touch, rub or pull at his or her nose and ears while lying. Ears may also become noticeably red.
- Grooming gestures (rubbing a beard, stroking or flipping the hair, etc.) when timed with stressful questions.
- The untruthful person may cross his or her legs and arms across the abdomen or extend his legs toward the interviewer. This unconsciously protects the body or keeps a “safe” distance from the interviewer.
- Adjusting the body so that the person’s shoulders move from parallel to perpendicular in relation to the interviewer’s shoulders or adopting a “runner’s stance.”
- Shaking the foot, tapping the toes, swinging a leg or bouncing the knee during stressful questions.
- Making big or dramatic gestures with the hands when the person’s relaxed behavior is to rest them in their lap or to make small, natural gestures.
- Covering or wiping the mouth with a hand, licking or biting the lips.
- Facial expressions may appear contrived or delayed in response to a question. A person who raises his eyebrows in surprise, or smiles without raising the eyebrows may be faking this behavior to mask true emotions. It is especially important to watch for the timing of these expressions as they will typically not be “on time” when phony.
Verbal clues to deception may include:
- Inadvertent (Freudian) slips.
- Unnaturally loud, deep, or phony laughs.
- An unusually long pause that delays the answer or contrarily, an answer that is too quick or forceful.
- Swallowing hard before or during an answer.
- Answers that sound weak or like a question, “My degree’s from USC?”
- People under stress oftentimes make a clicking sound when they speak because their mouths become dry.
It’s worth noting that these clues most often tend to manifest themselves in clusters, which may include both verbal and non-verbal behavior.
If you are unsure of what you are seeing or whether some behavior is indicating dishonesty, take the person back to the neutral questions. Remove the stress, and re-establish his or her “norm.” When you feel that he or she is comfortable again, immediately take them back to the subject or question you were unsure of and re-evaluate their subsequent reactions.
Lastly, it is very difficult to observe these behaviors when the interviewer cannot see the interviewee’s entire body. Most interviewers put a desk between themselves and the interviewee blocking the entire lower half of his or her body.
Non-verbal behavior gets more difficult to control as the gesture gets further from the head. This means that a person who is aware of his non-verbal behavior may successfully control his head and hand movement but most likely will not be able to cotrol leg and foot movement.
Ideally, the interview area should be comfortable, private, and devoid of distractions such as open windows and various objects on shelves or desks. The subject should not be able to pick anything up like pens or paper clips, which allows them to become distracted. This will make it more difficult to evaluate their behavior. The interviewer should face the interviewee, seated 3 to 4 feet away, with no barriers between them. The door should either be to the side or behind the candidate. This will allow the interviewer to assess the interviewee’s behavior in relation to his or her subconscious desire to escape (i.e. orienting themselves towards the door or adopting the “runner’s stance” may indicate their level of discomfort.)
The ability to interpret both verbal and non-verbal behavior is not a very difficult skill to acquire; practice is paramount. When a person begins to understand and observe deceptive behavior it becomes a very powerful tool. However, even the most observant interviewers will miss signs of deception. In such cases a thorough reference and background inquiry serve as an important safeguard.
The ability to detect deception can be greatly enhanced by the types of questions you ask, the way you ask them and how you present the questions to the interviewee. In fact, the ability to convince the interviewee that he or she does not have the need to lie at all becomes the first priority while setting the stage for a successful interview.
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