“Without visual cues, detecting deception is difficult, but not impossible. We must listen better.”
Detecting Deception over the Telephone
When completing interviews in investigations, audits, and inspections, in-person interviews are, without question, the most revealing and effective method, allowing the interviewer to create quality rapport, ask questions while observing body language and use the full repertoire of techniques to get at the greatest quantity of truthful information. However, a face-to-face, in-person meeting is not always possible, especially at the initial stages of an inquiry/audit.
I hear the voice coming through the telephone receiver, but I am not sure the person at the other end is telling the truth. Without visual cues, detecting deception becomes more difficult, but not impossible. Deep budget cuts have forced many companies to use the telephone to conduct business instead of face-to-face meetings. Mastering skills to detect deception over the telephone safeguard against people who intend to lie to you or to take advantage of you. Several techniques will be presented to help determine the veracity of the person at the other end of the telephone. These techniques will be particularly helpful for investigators who have to conduct telephone interviews. Remember, no deception technique is 100 percent reliable and it is usually the employment of several of these techniques that you exponentially increase the probability of detecting deception.
Establish a Baseline
A behavioral baseline must be established during the first few minutes of a conversation. A baseline consists of verbal patterns and paralinguistic cues of the person to whom you are talking. Each person is different, so the need to establish this baseline exists in every interaction. The best method to establish a baseline is to engage the person in social pleasantries such as the weather or other neutral topics and observe the person’s speech patterns and paralinguistic cues. As is the case in any rapport building, it is essential to “peel away the layers of the onion” and drill down to more personal and meaningful issues. This activity gets the person talking and builds trust. The baseline is established during the part of the interview when the person you are talking to has no reason to lie. (Note: If the person is lying here, this is a clue you are in for a bad day.) Later in the interaction, you should be listening for any deviations from the person’s baseline behavior. Deviations from the baseline indicate a degree of anxiety or stress, which can indicate deception. Various factors can cause anxiety, including deception. One deviation from the baseline does not indicate deception. Look for a cluster of baseline changes before concluding deception. Deviation clusters typically occur during deception and these occur verbally and non-verbally.
Liars have longer response times than truth tellers. A study was completed by John Reid and Associates and the National Security Agency several years ago that showed response latency averaged .5 seconds for the truth teller, and 1.5 seconds for the deceiver. Truthful people simply answer questions; however, liars typically need extra time to formulate their answers to ensure that they appear truthful and that their answer is believable to the listener. A person’s response time to those difficult questions can be compared with the baseline response time established at the beginning of the conversation. If the response time is longer, then deception is possible. Truthful people could take longer to answer a question if the question requires thought. To reduce the possibility of false positives, use the “Well” technique. When you ask someone a direct “yes” or “no” question and they begin their response with the word “well,” it means they are about to give you an answer they know you are not expecting. This technique only works with direct “yes” or “no” questions.
As indicated above, liars need time to construct believable answers. To gain extra time, liars often use Word Fillers such as “umm,” “ah,” and “uh huh” before responding. Another method liars use to gain extra time is to answer a question with a question or ask the speaker to repeat the question. Truthful people seldom need extra time to answer simple questions. Using this technique is less effective in today’s society because cell phone reception can be spotty requiring the need to ask for the question to be repeated. Again, no one technique can detect deception. Look for clusters or deceptive indicators, after taking into account your behavioral baseline analysis. If you are like me, you have friends that use “ummmmms” and “ahhhhhs” all the time.
Liars have difficulty providing direct answers to direct questions. Liars will use a variety of techniques to avoid answering direct questions. If you suspect deception, ask the person a direct “yes” or “no” question. If the person does not provide you with a direct answer, then the probability of deception increases. If the person pauses before answering the question, probability of deception significantly increases. If the person answers the question with the word “well,” deception is very likely. These responses form a cluster of cues that indicate a high probability of deception.
In all of these suggestions, quality active listening is absolutely essential. In general, we are much better at talking than listening. I like the line, “we have two ears and one mouth for a reason,” but like you, I have some relatives that don’t get that! We need to focus all of our energy and attention on what is being said, and how it is being said. Despite the fact that on the phone we can’t observe non-verbal indicators of deception, that fact is that trained interviewers are much better (percentage wise) of detecting deception via the spoken word.
Additional techniques to detect deception can be found in other blogs that I have written and contained in most blocks of instruction that our company instruct. If you have additional questions or comments, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at:
Mark A. Anderson
Director of Training and Development
Anderson Investigative Associates, llc
128 Oarsman Xing
St. Marys, GA 31558