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Former Green Beret Sergeant Major (Retired) Karl Erickson has faced all kinds of liars: combative locals who don’t want to tell you where the bad guys are hiding, friendly forces who exaggerate their capabilities to help, guys on your squad who don’t want to admit how badly they messed up, the list goes on and on.
Over the course of his career, Erickson has learned a simple method, taught by John E. Reid and Associates, that anyone can use to help separate sniff out a liar whether they are going to war or hiring a new employee. Entrepreneur spoke with Erickson from his office at T1G, an elite Special Operations training facility.
Forget what you’ve seen in the movies.
“In the movies and TV, they always talk about the eyes. ‘If the guy looks upper right or upper left, they are lying.’ That might be true for some people, but what you have to remember is that there are people who will do that just because they are scared or nervous, not because they are lying. You need to find each individual’s baseline for truthfulness.”
“Do some fast research prior to the conversation and learn some truths about this person. Go to their social media pages and find some easy things you know they won’t lie about: vacations, celebrations — easy stuff like that. Then look for some other stuff that might make them uncomfortable to talk about.”
Start with the fun stuff.
“Watch their body language as they answer easy questions that you know the truth about. ‘Do anything fun this summer?’ If they answer truthfully about a vacation and seem jittery, you now know that they’re just nervous and the jitteriness doesn’t mean they’re lying. Watch where their eyes go, note if they clear their throat before they speak, do they lean back or forward?”
Slowly turn up the heat.
“Next, move on to topics that you think they might lie about, that you know the answer to. This may be some information you read about their company online. If they lie, watch and listen for what changed in their tone or mannerisms.”
Now go for it.
“At this point, you should have a good baseline for their body language and speech patterns when they are telling the truth. Now you can get into the questions that you don’t know the answer to. Using what you now know about their behavior, you’ll have a better chance of ascertaining if they are lying or not.”
Have a three-way.
“If you think someone is lying, ask them the same question in three different ways. You might think that it is to catch any differences in their response, but what I’m telling you to look for just the opposite: is there a scripted aspect to their response? Do they use the same careful phrasing over and over again? Politicians are amazing at this. It allows them to answer the question without revealing anything they don’t want you to know. If it feels like a prepared and scripted response, that is a sign that they’re either lying or not telling you the whole story.”
Check their speed.
“Take note of how quickly they answer a question. Did they immediately respond without giving much thought? Think about a teenager standing in front of his parents. If the parents ask him a question and the kid immediately launches into an answer without thinking, he prepared. He had a story ready to go for you, Mom and Dad.”
Have a second set of eyes and ears.
“When possible, have another observer in the room. Have someone pretending to be an assistant sitting off to the side working on a laptop, or someone pretending to be an IT person. Your interview subject will quickly forget that they are in the room. That gives you another set of eyes paying attention strictly to this person’s mannerisms, someone who can help you catch changes that you might have missed. While you’re watching their eyes, you might not notice that they started tapping their foot on the ground.”
“What this all allows is for you to make better decisions on partnerships. For the most part, you don’t want to link up with liars, but you also don’t want to pass on a great opportunity because the guy had shifty eyes and it turns out he was just nervous. This method can help prevent that from happening.”
Watch Erickson explain why he became a Green Beret: