Psychology Today: Here To Help

Stybel Peabody On Lying

Lying under pressure ( Gannett News Service ) CINCINNATI-The phrase is common, and for detective Timothy Tighe, polygraph examiner for the Cincinnati Police Division, it rings true. It might also register with some business owners who must interview applicants for positions at their firms. "You've heard people say, 'He's a stinking liar,"" he said. "Well, it actually does happen. The odor in our polygraph room was so bad a while back that believe it or not, we had to buy some deodorizer. "Now, it may have had to do with the personal hygiene of the people we are interviewing, but I don't think so. There is a study that under pressure, and when people are lying, the body secretes a unique aroma from lying."

Detecting liars is a critical asset for small-business people, too, particularly those involved in regular searches for new employees. While the average entrepreneur thinks that he has a better ability than most to catch a liar during interviews, chances are he does not, said Dr. Laurence Stybel, a psychologist and president of Stybel Peabody, a Boston boutique executive placement firm. "Most entrepreneurs will tell you the reason they are so fabulously successful is their ability to evaluate people quickly, that God gave them special gifts to spot liars," he said. "When you strip it away, it turns out they don't have anything special. Most people don't.'

' About the only group with any talent for detecting deception are Secret Service agents, according to 1991 research by Paul Ekmann and Maureen O'Sullivan published by American Psychologist magazine. Agents apparently are better at picking up liars because they have been trained to watch body movements while listening to answers. "Agents spend a lot of time gazing at crowds, so they become acutely sensitive to subtle body movements," Stybel said. Entrepreneurs should be attuned to body language at the time of the interview, too, because that is where most liars fail.

Fidgeting is not a good sign of the truth for Andrew D. Conlon, who has spent 25 years in the Hamilton County court system, 16 years as a bailiff for Judge Thomas Crush. He hears testimony from hundreds of witnesses annually in criminal and civil cases. He has a few tips about how to tell who is not telling the truth. "Now sometimes, you just don't know, but when the hand goes to the mouth, when they scratch the eye, when all of a sudden the nose itches, that sets off the red flag," Conlon said. "If you're going to lie, keep your hands folded in your lap." For Tighe, indicators of lying are not always foolproof. An individual who lowers his eyes might just be shy. Eye direction does have implications, though. "If the eyes shift to the left, it means the individual is searching, " he said. "A liar has to search. "I don't want to give away all our tricks, but when you see somebody pick lint off clothes, that's an indicator that something is going on."

The real problem with small businesses is that often, owners find reasons to like a candidate, according to Tighe. "The key is to write down reactions to the person," he said. "If there is something they did with their body, something they did with their voice, write it down, even if it doesn't make any sense. It may be a clue. You can figure it out later."

Copyright 1998, Gannett News Service, a division of Gannett Co., Inc. JOHN ECKBERG, Lying under pressure. , Gannett News Service, 09-18-1998, pp ARC.