How to spot a liar – Ted Talk by Pamela Meyer (Transcript)

 

Pamela Meyer – Author of Liespotting

Okay, now I don’t want to alarm anybody in this room, but it’s just come to my attention that the person to your right is a liar. Also, the person to your left is a liar. Also the person sitting in your very seats is a liar. We’re all liars.

What I’m going to do today is I’m going to show you what the research says about why we’re all liars, how you can become a liespotter and why you might want to go the extra mile and go from liespotting to truth seeking, and ultimately to trust building.

Now speaking of trust, ever since I wrote this book, “Liespotting,” no one wants to meet me in person anymore, no, no, no, no, no. They say, “It’s okay, we’ll email you.” I can’t even get a coffee date at Starbucks. My husband’s like, “Honey, deception? Maybe you could have focused on cooking. How about French cooking?”

So before I get started, what I’m going to do is I’m going to clarify my goal for you, which is not to teach a game of Gotcha. Liespotters aren’t those nitpicky kids, those kids in the back of the room that are shouting, “Gotcha! Gotcha! Your eyebrow twitched. You flared your nostril. I watch that TV show ‘Lie To Me.’ I know you’re lying.” No, liespotters are armed with scientific knowledge of how to spot deception. They use it to get to the truth, and they do what mature leaders do everyday; they have difficult conversations with difficult people, sometimes during very difficult times. And they start up that path by accepting a core proposition, and that proposition is the following: Lying is a cooperative act. Think about it, a lie has no power whatsoever by its mere utterance. Its power emerges when someone else agrees to believe the lie.

So I know it may sound like tough love, but look, if at some point you got lied to, it’s because you agreed to get lied to.

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Lying is a cooperative act

Truth number one about lying: Lying’s a cooperative act. Now not all lies are harmful. Sometimes we’re willing participants in deception for the sake of social dignity, maybe to keep a secret that should be kept secret, secret. We say, “Nice song.” “Honey, you don’t look fat in that, no.” Or we say, favorite of the digiratti, “You know, I just fished that email out of my spam folder. So sorry.”

But there are times when we are unwilling participants in deception. And that can have dramatic costs for us. Last year saw $997 billion in corporate fraud alone in the United States. That’s an eyelash under a trillion dollars. That’s 7% of revenues. Deception can cost billions. Think Enron, Madoff, the mortgage crisis. Or in the case of double agents and traitors, like Robert Hanssen or Aldrich Ames, lies can betray our country, they can compromise our security, they can undermine democracy, they can cause the deaths of those that defend us.

Deception is actually serious business. This con man, Henry Oberlander, he was such an effective con man British authorities say he could have undermined the entire banking system of the Western world. And you can’t find this guy on Google; you can’t find him anywhere. He was interviewed once, and he said the following. He said, “Look, I’ve got one rule.” And this was Henry’s rule, he said, “Look, everyone is willing to give you something. They’re ready to give you something for whatever it is they’re hungry for.” And that’s the crux of it.

If you don’t want to be deceived, you have to know, what is it that you’re hungry for? And we all kind of hate to admit it. We wish we were better husbands, better wives, smarter, more powerful, taller, richer — the list goes on. Lying is an attempt to bridge that gap, to connect our wishes and our fantasies about who we wish we were, how we wish we could be, with what we’re really like. And boy are we willing to fill in those gaps in our lives with lies.

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On a given day, studies show that you may be lied to anywhere from 10 to 200 times. Now granted, many of those are white lies. But in another study, it showed that strangers lied three times within the first 10 minutes of meeting each other. Now when we first hear this data, we recoil. We can’t believe how prevalent lying is. We’re essentially against lying. But if you look more closely, the plot actually thickens. We lie more to strangers than we lie to coworkers. Extroverts lie more than introverts. Men lie eight times more about themselves than they do other people. Women lie more to protect other people. If you’re an average married couple, you’re going to lie to your spouse in one out of every 10 interactions. Now you may think that’s bad. If you’re unmarried, that number drops to three.

Lying is complex

It’s woven into the fabric of our daily and our business lives. We’re deeply ambivalent about the truth. We parse it out on an as-needed basis, sometimes for very good reasons, other times just because we don’t understand the gaps in our lives. That’s truth number two about lying. We’re against lying, but we’re covertly for it in ways that our society has sanctioned for centuries and centuries and centuries. It’s as old as breathing. It’s part of our culture, it’s part of our history. Think Dante, Shakespeare, the Bible, News of the World.

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