Saturday, August 10, 2013

How to Spot a Liar — HBS Working Knowledge

Some excerpts from the article :


In terms of strategic cues, the researchers discovered the following:
Bald-faced liars tended to use many more words during the ultimatum game than did truth tellers, presumably in an attempt to win over suspicious receivers. Van Swol dubbed this "the Pinocchio effect." "Just like Pinocchio's nose, the number of words grew along with the lie," she says. 
Allocators who engaged in deception by omission, on the other hand, used fewer words and shorter sentences than truth tellers. 

Among the findings related to nonstrategic cues:
On average, liars used more swear words than did truth tellers—especially in cases where the recipients voiced suspicion about the true amount of the endowment. "We think this may be due to the fact that it takes a lot of cognitive energy to lie," Van Swol says. "Using so much of your brain to lie may make it hard to monitor yourself in other areas." 
Liars used far more third-person pronouns than truth tellers or omitters. "This is a way of distancing themselves from and avoiding ownership of the lie," Van Swol explains. 
Liars spoke in more complex sentences than either omitters or truth tellers. 

The researchers also examined when and whether the receivers trusted the allocators—noting instances when receivers voiced doubts about the allocators' statements, and correlating the various linguistic cues with the accuracy of the receivers' suspicions. They also noted instances in which receivers showed no suspicion toward deceivers.

On average, receivers tended to trust the bald-faced liars far more than they trusted the allocators who tried to deceive by omission. In short, relative silence garnered more suspicion than flat-out falsehoods. "It turns out that omission may be a terrible deception strategy," Van Swol says. "In terms of succeeding at the deception, it was more effective to outright lie. It's a more Machiavellian strategy, but it's more successful."

In the latest phase of their research, the team is investigating the linguistic differences between lying in person and lying via email. Results regarding the latter may be increasingly useful as a larger portion of business is now being conducted via email, and such communications leave a transcript that can be analyzed carefully—and at leisure—by suspicious counterparts. "People detect lies better over the computer than they do face-to-face," Van Swol says.

That said, the researchers are quick to emphasize that linguistic cues are most definitely not a foolproof method of detecting lies, even among those who are trained to look out for them.

"This is early stage research," Malhotra says. "As with any such work, it would be a mistake to take the findings as gospel and apply them too strictly. Rather, the factors we find to be associated with lies and deception are perhaps most useful as warning signs that should simply prompt greater vigilance and further investigation regarding the veracity of the people with whom we are dealing."

—To learn more about how to deal with liars during business negotiations, read Negotiation Genius: How to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Brilliant Results at the Bargaining Table and Beyond by Deepak Malhotra and Max H. Bazerman.

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