Our body language tells us more than we realize about our motives, our desires, and our true feelings. The nonverbal tips that our bodies project are keys to our true thoughts.
Whether you are a private investigator meeting a potential witness for the first time and obtaining a statement from her or a trial lawyer in court questioning a witness, the main issue is not having a baseline of the witness’ normal behavior. I’m very good at detecting when my friends and family are not telling the truth. Why? I know them. I know their mannerisms, vocal intonation and speech patterns.
Lie detection, although far from being an exact science, has come a long way over the past several years. The problem is that many of the ways liars reveal themselves are not easily identifiable in a court room setting. For example, polygraphs work because most people have a physiological response to lying. It is difficult, however, to know that a person’s heart rate has increased or his hands have begun to sweat from looking at him across the court room. Pupil dilation is also a potential indicator of dishonesty, but if you are close enough to see a change in the witness’ pupils, you are surely invading that witness’s personal space and that is generally not a good move. So in an experimental setting (i.e., research laboratory with polygraph machines) it may be possible to identify deceit from a physiological change. During a deposition, however, those methods are not a viable option.
So what other options are there?Several possible predictors of deception (outside of a laboratory setting) are:
- Voice pitch. Even during little white lies, the pitch of the voice goes higher. The greater the lie, the higher the pitch is a general rule of thumb we observe in the field.
- Rate of speech. People tend to talk more when they are lying because they feel the need to convince the questioner and believe by including as many (albeit, fictional) details as possible, that they are providing a lot of information. More is not always better.
The problem with relying on these two reactions however is that some people talk that way all of the time so you have to have a baseline for comparison before you can conclude that the witness is lying to you. If you believe that a witness is lying to you in a courtroom because of the rapidity of her speech, what do you have to compare that to to make a determination of deceit? Therefore, if you suspect a witness is lying about a particular portion of her testimony, you should stop asking questions about it. Move on to another line of questioning to see if her demeanor relaxes. Then return to the original subject to see if she gets anxious again. This will help you determine if the witness is nervous about that particular line of questioning or just nervous in general.
The single best predictor of lying however is the quick, unconscious movement made by the person lying. I.e., that the person is saying yes but shaking her head, indicating “no”. Lie detection experts have reviewed countless videos of when a statement was made that was later found to be a lie, (e.g., President Clinton denying a relationship with Monica Lewinski; Alex Rodriguez denying the use of steroids in his interview with Katie Couric). The person’s head movement was a consistent predictor of deception. Therefore, if you suspect a witness is lying or not being wholly truthful during a particular aspect of her deposition, pay close attention to the movement of her head as she answers. Additionally, look for general inconsistencies in behavior. Does her body language match what she is saying? If you have a bad feeling about a witness, don’t ignore your instinct.
Basically, time is your friend during a deposition in establishing a baseline – as slim as it may be, it’s better than nothing. If certain questions make the witness skittish, drop that line of inquiry quickly and when she least expects it, wrap right back to that particular point in her testimony. Practice with your staff and you will be amazed at the accuracy rate of your instincts. (For obvious reasons and to lessen the turnover rate of employees, however, you may want to rethink that suggestion…)
BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.
As always, stay safe.