Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Truthfully, you may enjoy reading this

By Dick Hirsch

There I was, sitting with my legs crossed, at ease and motionless except for idly flexing my right ankle in a gentle up and down motion. That’s a common resting position for me, relaxed and paying attention to what is transpiring in the world around me. Oh, and I occasionally fold my arms across my chest as I converse with friends and acquaintances.

Do you get the picture? Does that seem like a typical position, at least semi-normal?

Well, yes and no. While it may seem normal to you and me, the body language is questionable with serious negative overtones, conveying a clear message to the informed observer. The specialty is called non-verbal communications and it can apparently be very persuasive in measuring a personality. What I was innocently doing was adapting the tell-tale behavior patterns of a person who is lying.

Have I ever lied to you?

Of course not. Would I kid you? I’ll be honest with you.

(The rhetorical question or the unexpected declaration of honesty are often defensive ploys to obscure a lie and can be signals that the truth has become elusive.)

There are experts on human behavior who insist that lying is commonplace, with some studies reporting on persons who confess to lying at least once a day. As you’re aware, lies come in all varieties, from the legendary large and dark whoppers to those sympathetically described as little and white. One of life’s challenges continues to be recognizing the liar and being able to separate the fact from the fiction.
Sorting through the rhetoric and isolating the falsehoods is an ongoing quest. I claim no expertise, even though I’ve known a few chronic liars in my life. Those people became so skilled in the art of the lie that some of those with whom they had regular dealings eventually concluded the perpetrators actually believed in some of their own deceptions.

Congenital liars operating in an organization usually are convinced they are successfully deluding their colleagues. The opposite is often the case since it is difficult, if not impossible, to conceal a steady flow of false reports and statements. Sometimes entire careers are built upon a foundation of lies. When you have been around long enough it is likely you can reflect on your own experiences with frequent or pathological liars. Years ago I had that experience with a person whose office was down the hall and it was very illuminating. The person was very adroit on initial meetings.

It took longer for some observers to recognize the pattern, but eventually the truth always leaked out. That person may be reading this column at this very moment, curious to see whether I’ll reveal any specific clues that might be revealing and embarrassing. There are many behaviors to be considered, behaviors like frequent eye movement, pulling on the ear lobe, grasping the knee cap of a crossed leg, or staring into space and focusing on an object in the room, rather than making eye contact. Those are all possible symptoms of lying, along with smiling or laughing at inappropriate moments, playing with their hair or repeated touching of the cheek, nose or mouth area.

It is simple to list those traits but it is difficult to reach a solid conclusion based on such evidence. That is why interrogators in various positions struggle over the lying issue. That would include job interviewers, psychologists and other practitioners, and investigators at every level of government. Books have been written on the subject and most agree that deciding whether a person is being truthful is a challenge of major proportions. For them, the furtive glance and the beads of perspiration on the brow are not enough. Why? Because they could also be indications of nervousness by a truthful person.

There are countless instances of lying, many harmless. I think of an episode on a lonely road in New Mexico. I don’t recall the speed limit, but I was driving far in excess. Suddenly a flashing red light appeared in the rear view mirror. “Do you know how fast you were going?” the trooper asked as he studied my license.

“Yessir, I do,” I said, “and I’m really sorry. I just slipped up and I apologize. The funny thing is,” I added, indicating my passenger, “my wife, here, complains I drive too slowly.” He smiled an understanding smile, saluted, and sent me on my way. I guess that shows the truth can be an absolute defense.



Post a Comment

<< Home