Unfortunately, deception is something that comes with the human condition.
Example: Studies have found that roughly four out of every 10 resumes you see contain some form of substantial mistake, such as job candidates over-exaggerating their contributions at previous employers.
Another recent study, which compiled data from 200 previous studies, found that, on average, we detect lies 54% of the time. That’s just a little better than guessing.
So how can you root out falsehoods like the HR super-sleuth you are?
Don’t watch — listen
Michael Johnson, former attorney with the Department of Justice and CEO of Clear Law Institute, offered the following advice to HR pros during a presentation he gave at SHRM’s 2016 Annual Conference & Exposition entitled, “Detecting Lies and Deception: Practical Skills for HR Professionals.”
Johnson has trained tens of thousands of professionals how to properly conduct investigations and detect scientifically validated signs of deception and truthfulness.
The biggest tips he gave during his presentation to help you get to the truth in the hiring process and in workplace investigations:
- Use open-ended questions. Start questions with either “describe” or “how” to allow someone to explain him or herself. You want to let the person talk. “Yes” and “no” responses give you little to work with.
- Prepare a script. If you have time in advance, write down the questions you want to ask. It will help keep you on track and help you phrase the questions as you originally intended.
- Create a relaxed atmosphere. Stress and nervousness don’t equate to deception. It just means the person is emotional. Don’t ask questions like the “bad cop” or be overly aggressive. And hold the conversation in a relaxing room. It shouldn’t be an interrogation.
- Listen for the verbal cues someone’s lying. No one’s pants are going to catch on fire to make this easier for you, and many nonverbal cues for lying have been debunked. Liars try to control their actions and make a concerted effort to concentrate on their story. Listen for pauses before answers or avoidance of questions. One trick, Johnson suggested, is to have someone repeat his or her story in reverse. Then look to see if the facts change.
- Keep cool. Even when you know someone is lying to you, don’t call the person out. He or she will shut down and stop providing you with information, which you may need later. Let people commit to their stories, and document all you can of what they say.