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Tune your radar to detect liars

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Saturday, June 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

You might think you can detect a fibber by reading body language.

Obviously, the weird guy who never makes eye contact or the woman who nervously chews her lower lip are showing signs they are lying, right?

But what about your best work buddy who hangs out with you on weekends and threw you a surprise birthday party? This is someone you can trust.

Well, to be honest, that's a lie. The truth is that we're all liars at work, including you, according to Carol Kinsey Goman.

The lying appears to begin with a job interview and never stops, she says.

University of Massachusetts research finds that 81 percent of job interview candidates lie, and extroverts are the most likely to stretch the truth. On average, participants in the study told 2.19 lies in a 15-minute interview.

The lying doesn't even end in the exit interview, Goman says.

“People lie their heads off in exit interviews,” she says. “They say it would be a career killer if they told the truth, and they don't want to burn their bridges.”

So what does all this lying mean for the workplace?

At its most benign, a co-worker can lie to tell you that your butt doesn't look big in those pants.

But the problem can become much more destructive if a colleague lies to cover a serious error — or puts the blame on you. Lies can destroy careers and seriously damage companies, which is why Goman believes it's important to become more aware of liars.

“I don't want us to become suspicious of everyone, but I do think we need to understand the lies that are going on and think about what our response will be,” she says.

In her new book, “The Truth About Lies in the Workplace: How to Spot Liars and What to Do About Them,” Goman outlines ways to spot liars:

Look for “tells.” Just as a poker player spots nonverbal cues that give away another player's increased stress, you can look for body language that is out of sync with what a person is saying.

Body language that might indicate deception includes touching an eyebrow or squeezing the bridge of the nose while closing the eyes. Or, a liar may show nervousness through increased foot movement.

Listen to the choice of words. Verbal cues can indicate someone might be lying, such as offering unnecessary elaboration to a story, changing a subject or offering qualifiers such as “to the best of my knowledge.”

Once you think someone is lying, what should you do?

The answer may be different depending on the circumstances and the lie being told, Goman says.

You've got to consider who is lying. You might react differently if this person has power over you, such as your boss.

Also consider your goal in confronting the liar: Do you want an apology, a change in behavior or punishment for the person?

Even with our radar on alert for liars, Goman says they're not always easy to spot at work because we have an “invested interest” bias.

Anita Bruzzese is author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy ... and How to Avoid Them,” www.45things.com. Write her in care of USA TODAY/Gannett, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va. 22108. For a reply, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

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