How to Spot a Liar

Key linguistic cues can help reveal dishonesty during business negotiations, whether it's a flat-out lie or a deliberate omission of key information, according to research by Deepak Malhotra.
by Carmen Nobel

Want to know if someone's lying to you? Telltale signs may include running of the mouth, an excessive use of third-person pronouns, and an increase in profanity.

These are among the findings of a recent study that delves into the language of deception, detailed in the paper Evidence for the Pinocchio Effect: Linguistic Differences Between Lies, Deception by Omissions, and Truths, which was published in the journal Discourse Processes.

Asked why the topic of deception is important to business research, negotiation expert Deepak Malhotra responds: "As it turns out, some people will lie and cheat in business."

Malhotra, the Eli Goldston Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, coauthored the paper with Associate Professor Lyn M. Van Swol and doctoral candidate Michael T. Braun, both from the University of Wisconsin—Madison. "Most people admit to having lied in negotiations, and everyone believes they've been lied to in these contexts," Malhotra says. "We may be able to improve the situation if we can equip people to detect and deter the unethical behavior of others."

“Just like Pinocchio's nose, the number of words grew along with the lie”

"Evidence for the Pinocchio Effect" fills a key gap in the field of deception research, says Van Swol, the study's lead author. Previous studies have examined the linguistic differences between lies and truthful statements. But this one goes a step further to consider the differences between flat-out lying and so-called deception by omission—that is, the willful avoidance of divulging important information, either by changing the subject or by saying as little as possible.

The Ultimatum Game

To garner a sample of truth tellers, liars, and deceivers by omission, the researchers recruited 104 participants to play the ultimatum game, a popular tool among experimental economists. In the traditional version of the game, one player (the allocator) receives a sum of money and proposes how to divvy it up with a partner (the receiver). The receiver has the option of either accepting the proposed split or refusing the allocator's proposal—in which case neither player gets any of the money. Because receivers will often reject offers they perceive as unfair, leaving both parties with nothing, it behooves the allocator to offer an amount that will be deemed fair by the receiver. In many instances, allocators choose to share half, Malhotra says.

For the purposes of the deception experiment, the rules of the ultimatum game differed from the traditional version in three ways. First, in this version, the allocator received an endowment of either $30 or $5 to share with the receiver. The receiver had no way of verifying how much money the allocator had been given, information which the allocator was not required to divulge. Hence, an allocator could conceivably give the receiver $2 and keep $28, and the receiver would be none the wiser, perhaps assuming only $5 was in play. The second change was that if the receiver rejected the allocator's offer he or she would receive a default amount of $7.50 (or $1.25)—whereas the allocator would get no money at all.

Research shows that liars are wordier than truth tellers during negotiationsFinally, each game included two minutes of videotaped conversation in which the receiver could grill the allocator with questions, prior to deciding whether to accept or reject the offer. This provided ample opportunity for the allocator to tell the truth about the money, lie, or try to avoid the subject altogether. "We wanted to create a situation where people could choose to lie or not lie, and it would happen naturally," Van Swol says.

Ultimately, the receiver had to decide whether the proposed allocation was fair and honest, based only on a conversation with the allocator. Thus, it behooved the allocator to be either a fair person or a good liar.

As it turned out, 70 percent of the allocators were honest, telling the receivers the true amount of the endowment and/or offering them at least half of the pot. The remaining 30 percent of allocators were classified either as liars (meaning they flat-out lied about the amount of the endowment) or as deceivers by omission (meaning they evaded questions about the amount of the endowment, but ultimately offered the receiver less than half).

After a graduate student transcribed all the allocator/receiver conversations, the researchers carefully analyzed the linguistic content, comparing the truth tellers against the liars and deceivers in order to suss out cues for deception. They looked for both strategic and nonstrategic language cues.

"A strategic cue is a conscious strategy to reduce the likelihood of the deception being detected," Van Swol explains, "whereas a nonstrategic cue is an emotional response, and people aren't usually aware that they're doing it."

Key Findings: Word Count, Profanity, And Pronouns

In terms of strategic cues, the researchers discovered the following:

  • Bald-faced liars tended to use many more words during the ultimatum game than did truth tellers, presumably in an attempt to win over suspicious receivers. Van Swol dubbed this "the Pinocchio effect." "Just like Pinocchio's nose, the number of words grew along with the lie," she says.
  • Allocators who engaged in deception by omission, on the other hand, used fewer words and shorter sentences than truth tellers.

Among the findings related to nonstrategic cues:

  • On average, liars used more swear words than did truth tellers—especially in cases where the recipients voiced suspicion about the true amount of the endowment. "We think this may be due to the fact that it takes a lot of cognitive energy to lie," Van Swol says. "Using so much of your brain to lie may make it hard to monitor yourself in other areas."
  • Liars used far more third-person pronouns than truth tellers or omitters. "This is a way of distancing themselves from and avoiding ownership of the lie," Van Swol explains.
  • Liars spoke in more complex sentences than either omitters or truth tellers.

The researchers also examined when and whether the receivers trusted the allocators—noting instances when receivers voiced doubts about the allocators' statements, and correlating the various linguistic cues with the accuracy of the receivers' suspicions. They also noted instances in which receivers showed no suspicion toward deceivers.

On average, receivers tended to trust the bald-faced liars far more than they trusted the allocators who tried to deceive by omission. In short, relative silence garnered more suspicion than flat-out falsehoods. "It turns out that omission may be a terrible deception strategy," Van Swol says. "In terms of succeeding at the deception, it was more effective to outright lie. It's a more Machiavellian strategy, but it's more successful."

Possible Applications

In the latest phase of their research, the team is investigating the linguistic differences between lying in person and lying via email. Results regarding the latter may be increasingly useful as a larger portion of business is now being conducted via email, and such communications leave a transcript that can be analyzed carefully—and at leisure—by suspicious counterparts. "People detect lies better over the computer than they do face-to-face," Van Swol says.

That said, the researchers are quick to emphasize that linguistic cues are most definitely not a foolproof method of detecting lies, even among those who are trained to look out for them.

"This is early stage research," Malhotra says. "As with any such work, it would be a mistake to take the findings as gospel and apply them too strictly. Rather, the factors we find to be associated with lies and deception are perhaps most useful as warning signs that should simply prompt greater vigilance and further investigation regarding the veracity of the people with whom we are dealing."

—To learn more about how to deal with liars during business negotiations, read Negotiation Genius: How to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Brilliant Results at the Bargaining Table and Beyond by Deepak Malhotra and Max H. Bazerman. Follow Malhotra on Twitter at @Prof_Malhotra.

About the Author

Carmen Nobel is the senior editor of Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.
    • Ellen Naylor
    • President, The Business Intelligence Source
    This is interesting research to observe when people are lying to you in all forms of communication. I have been interviewing people for over 20 years. If you probe more deeply when you suspect they're lying, Pinocchio's nose gets longer if they are, since it's usually hard to keep lying. People also lie when they're trying to help you or because they're too embarrassed to say they don't know for fear they'll look uninformed. The same thing happens in written communication: it's just human nature.
    • Ivan Blanco
    • Legal Adviser, I.C.E. - Costa Rica
    The verbal elloquence that liars portray reminds me of the Bible (book of Proverbs, Chapter 10 verse 19, KJV) which states: "In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.". With regard to the opposite (ibidem, Chapter 17 verse 28, KJV), it also states: "Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.". It`s indeed appealing to see yet another example of scientific work pointing towards confirmation of the words of the Bible, which undoubtely should be read and studied more by wisdom-seeking negotiators.
    • ROS
    • Engineer, City
    Stated a long time ago: "Me thinks thou dost protest too much!"
    • Mark Wilson
    • Principal, M. H. Wilson & Associates
    Excellent study. Certainly look forward as more results come to to light. It would also be interesting to address continued research in political responses instead of only business conversations.
    • Charles A. Quarcoo
    • Executive Secretary, ELCS
    I agree with your write up and want to indicate the liars continue to lie to protect the lies that they want others to believe. We must be extra careful when dealing with people when we suspect they are liars.
    • Anonymous
    I think there's an interesting correlation with the advice a mentor gave me when I was giving briefings to our government contract monitors. His advice was to first answer the question (perhaps even just a simple yes/no or number) and then, if needed (by the reaction of the questioner), launch into the explanation. Aside from saving time, this approach helps you avoid looking like you are trying to hide something.

    You know when a politician is being less than candid when, after a simple yes/no question has been asked, they don't start their response with either "yes" or "no", as in Q: "Do you support the XYZ bill?" A: "The problem of [insert issue here] is wide spread. I've worked tirelessly...."
    • Ian Welsh
    • writer/editor
    Interesting. It's worth remembering you need the baseline: research has shown, for example, that people who swear habitually (as opposed to swearing more) are more honest.
    • Mark Calonico
    • Director, Sacramento County Office of Education
    And I think of my days as a school principal investigating various situations, especially with the omitters. Many of my colleagues would find this interesting research to keep in the back of their minds when dealing with students, parents, and other staff.
    • Yiga Benon
    • Town clerk /City manager, Iganga municipal council Uganda
    Am so grateful that i have also read this nice and educative article. It just happened to me this week on monday during the weekly management meeting. Profanity was evident in one of the members of the senior management team who we suspected of causing us trouble. Now i know though requires diligence to notice it.
    • James Polichak
    • Attorney and Cognitive Scientist, private practice
    It is very important to put this research into its proper context.

    There has been several decades of research into deception detection, and virtually no evidence that any particular group - even those who specialize in questioning people, such as the police, FBI, and other law enforcement officials - can reliably detect deception when the full range of outcomes is analyzed. Same with professionals such as judges or doctors.

    What this means is that there is a high rate of false positives - thinking someone is lying when they are not - and a high rate of false negatives - failure to detect a liar - in addition to successful identifications of liars and truth-tellers. When all possibilities are considered, performance is almost always no better than random chance (I think that there was evidence that trained and experienced CIA operatives performed better than chance).

    On the other hand, many people think that they can spot a liar, and are highly confident in their false belief.

    The present study does not change this. It provides correlates of lying vs truth-telling in a particular situation. This situation is low-stakes and of low resemblance to real world situations, where deceivers often have the advantage of preparing themselves to be deceptive and know who they will be attempting to deceive.

    There is also a conflict between the research findings and real-world business negotiations.

    In real-world negotiations, the negotiators are more likely to be representing organizations than merely themselves. Use of third-person pronouns would be expected to increase as the organization may be referred to as "they" or "it".

    And complex negotiations naturally lend themselves to complex sentence structures. Those who are experienced negotiators also likely have their use of profanity under control. Or they may use it as a negotiation tool.

    Omissions would also be expected, as no one is going to come right out and say "this is the minimum acceptable to my client" as that would result in the client getting the minimum. Similarly, it is common to say things like "my client can't accept that offer" when the offer may be accepted if it is the only way to make a deal.

    As one of the other commenters said, it is important to remember the baseline. That baseline is that people think that they are better at detecting deception than they really are.

    People remember the positive examples, such as when they suspect deception and engage in further probing questions to reveal the deception. They tend to not think of the false positives, when they engaged in further questioning and decided that someone was not a liar. And even here, they might be wrong - the liar may have successfully responded to the additional questioning. In this case, false confidence may be strengthened - this person can't be lying because I have probed them, and they showed no sign of deception.

    They cannot know when they experienced a false negative - when a liar was so successful that they never suspected deception at all.

    They also may not be able to determine if they had a false positive, believing someone to be a liar when they are not, as this would require evidence beyond the interrogation to verify that the person was deceptive. In a law enforcement situation, evidence may exist. In a business negotiation, it may be impossible to obtain evidence of deception. Or it may only be possible to decide someone was deceptive after a deal has been made, perhaps long after a deal was made.
    • James Polichak
    • Attorney and Cognitive Scientist, private practice
    It's also rather amusing that along with this article, one of the most popular articles is "Power Posing: Faking It Until You Make It".

    Highly popular even though it was published in 2010, this article provides instructions on how to use body language as a means of influencing others to accept one's desires, whether deserved or not.

    As this article reports, "People often are more influenced by how they feel about you than by what you're saying. It's not about the content of the message, but how you're communicating it."

    And that is how you improve your chances to cause a false negative result regarding your deception.
    • nosapience
    • Professor, WHO
    Typical massage of causation and correlation and it would appear that the experiment is set up to prove itself. The participants know that the situation is fake, a game, and therefore change their physical, social, emotional, mental and particularly moral patterns. Gaming or in this case Ethical Gaming, allows people to temporarily rewrite their ethics to make their action in the situation, ethical. The game is to deceive and therefore all activities are based on deceit, whether or not they are actually indicators of deceit in a different context is an unsubstantiated claim.

    There is more than a sniff of Chomsky in here with regard to linguistic meaning and it all makes me nervous. Drs in conversation with each other use very complex sentences and language, are they lying? Counsellors deliberately minimise intervention and leave long pauses in conversations, are they lying by ommission? Well know cultural and sociodemographic factors affect the use of profanity which is more culturally acceptable in younger and poorer societies, do poor people and kids all lie?

    It all smells a bit like the pseudoscience of NLP! Yes in that situation of negotiation, the observers proved their hypothesis by correlating behaviours to an empirical categorisation of true, omitted, not true. Of course there'll be correlation, but do those effects manifest in different context where perhaps, mediation, calculation, synthesis or even 'conceptual blending' is the principle social acticity?

    I'm a believer in Deceit but also Self-Deceptoin, and on this count Robert Trivers book is excellent. With regard to this article, I think I shall read some more books and then consider it again.
    • Kapil Kumar Sopory
    • Company Secretary, SMEC(India) Private Limited
    The presence of a liar around is dangerous. The management must be very careful to act immediately someone's lie unfolds. There should not be a consideration whether a lie is minor or major. A person who has even for fun sake developed a habit of lying cannot and should not be trusted. The importance being truthful needs to be stressed time and again right from induction stage. Tolerance for any type of lie has to be zero.
    The methods listed in this write-up can be useful. In addition, there has to be vigilance at all levels to detect liars and award them exemplary punishments.
    • Srini
    • Director, HP
    Interesting article.
    Useful to definitely consider these finding.

    I also noticed that one of the reviewers (James P) has got the contrast between these and an earlier research article - "Power Posing - Fake it until you make it".
    Wonder how this research will turn up when people follow that approach...

    The research here has taken people who are fairly equals (in other words they don't have any other relationship). It will be interesting if the same research is conducted with people higher up in an org and lower down in the hierarchy; or between a truly powerful customer and a supplier...

    So will need a lot more research to come to some valuable inputs and guidance...
    • S.Gpalan
    • Chartered Accountant, M/s.Gopalan & Ramkumar, Chartered Accountants
    A very interesting topic to go through. Initially, I find it difficult to understand what is being said. Even now, I could not understand the contents full well for our regular use. The last paragraph mentions that to know more about it read another 'reference book'. And I become tired. The topic given could have been more useful, if it is presented in simple manner completely. Anyhow, thank you for allowing me to read an interesting topic, but the result has not completely percolated into my mind.
    With best wishes,
    • Dr. Farida Virani
    • Prof. HR & Behavioural Sciences, MET - IOM - Mumbai - India
    The article was very informative. I wonder if the research findings could be generalized globally or would vary with different cultural contexts.
    • Rod Rodriguez
    • Engineer, Stantec
    While your Key Findings might have been true of your experiment subjects, in my experience those findings are not the best indicators of liars. For one, cultural differences and social circumstances are not accounted for in the experiment. My findings are that cultural differences will mask a lier for the unfamiliar. Also, socially we act different given the circumstance, and therefore your experiment, by virtue of it not having a real risk (i.e. being found guilty of a lie, or of not achieving its purpose), cannot duplicate real-life circumstances, or its risks, or the mask employed. Socially, we are far more complex.

    Another observation is that some of my acquaintances who use profanity in their normal discourse happen to be some of the most honest people that I know, whereas some holier-than-thou acquaintances are quite the opposite. And most people will agree that their own acquaintances are no different from mine.

    And like the attorney who commented on detecting deception, I believe it is not possible to be entirely certain...not even with "lie detectors". We need to always be on guard follow our instincts. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
    • M Ghrist
    • Tech support, LCCC
    It's good that the article addressed the speculative aspects of the study. When dealing with others in multiple capacities I've discovered that the common standard for detecting dishonesty rarely works in the real world. People who wantonly lie will coach themselves according to the common standard. This standard was established using limited information from test subjects from a narrow group of individuals who often share the same gender, nationality, social and economic status, and hold similar jobs.
    Regional dilect and body language variations can result in an unfair number of false positives. Where I come from children are raised to avert their gaze as a sign of respect, so you can imagine my horror if I'm told I'm untrustworthy due to an ingrained mannerism.
    My informal study, known as "experience dealing with a diverse range of people" has shown language and physical mannerism is irrelevant.
    Omission of information, feigned ignorance, inconsistant changes in information, contradictory statements, and attempts to pressure or manipulate are more accurate indicators of dishonesty.
    • Peter Kermond
    • Director, Macadamia Exports Australia
    Is it not a feature of this type of research that the research itself then changes the behaviour; thus researching the phenomenon changes the phenomenon and is the seed of it's own doom. i.e liars read this type of thing and change behaviour; similar I guess to share market studies that investors then react to.
    • Vijay Eyunni
    • Senior Associate, NCH Corporation
    This is an 'interesting' research on a difficult subject that is indeed the bedrock of all human interaction and emotions that leads to decision making ;big or small. Learning of this facet can assist to increase the level of integrity, transparency and good value based ideologies in all human transactions. Great for those who need the wisdom and involved in frequent decision making or helping people to make right decisions.
    • Ayodele Asaju
    • Communication Specialist, Community and Social Development Project (CSDP), Nigeria
    This is an interesting research and useful for everyone in the business of communication. It has a wide range of application in spite of its limitations which have well been pointed out by Polichak.

    However, to lie or not to lie, hire or not to hire a liar eventually boils down to personal or corporate policy which determines where to work or not and which assignments to take on or not. I have from my teens found it less stressful to be honest. But this goes with loss of temporary benefits. I discovered that my fellow teenagers who could concoct stories got the girls - who by nature willingly suspend disbelief to escape harsh realities. I have been described as rather too harsh in certain circumstances, even told 'I don't need your truth, I only need to be comforted.' I have lost at an interview where I should have hyped my aversion to dishonesty but rather went on honestly to say, without many words or swear words or complex sentences, that there are circumstances where a lie may save the day. I went on to buttress my point by citing one of my hypertensive clients when I was a salesman whom I discovered needed 'more good news' than were available. Who gets a job may
    be a practiced person, the types you find in advertising campaigns. Some organizations are even looking for those who can do good make-ups for their organizations.

    Surprisingly as a practicing part-time pastor, I have come to learn that evangelists are too frank to keep a congregation and would need a pastor to couch truth in a more acceptable way. So, a pastor may be caught in false positive while trying to bear the truth in an acceptable way.

    The homel truth is that technology is making dishonesty an unwise habit. My people say the falsehood that has been traveling 20 years, is overtaken by truth in one minute. With lie detector, mobile phone, satellite imaging, CCTV and your fledgling research, lie cannot run again talk less of hiding. In spite of the sacrifices, honesty is becoming no longer the best policy but the only policy.
    • anonymous
    If liars can be detected by their use of profanity, does that mean that people in New York are more likely to be liars?
    • Ansori Bin Mai
    • Director of Security, Hotel and resort
    This is really interesting topic and I like it as it is my job to be human lie detector, at first it will be tough to practice detecting whether someone lying or not but after time goes by you will get used to it.
    • Seth
    • Manufacturing slave
    Researchers should visit a manufacturing floor where truth is told through swear words.
    • Nanaiah Pattada
    • Professor, Institute for Business Management and Technology
    The above findings holds good only in English speaking countries were the foundation starts in English and ends in English. In Asian countries, the English Vocabulary is dependent on where the person did his initial schooling or basic education. 90% of Indian Business depends on its mother-tongue in regular business transactions. Where the negotiation or meeting is in English, it becomes a literal translation of the mother-tongue into English, which sometimes sounds like this - 'Understanding the tree' - which actually means - I was waiting next to the tree. However funny it sounds, that is the English that negotiations are based on...................So when someone needs to explain or put forward their proposition, it is based on their knowledge of the English Language. It is always in simple English,................. Generalizations like the above would do more harm because Global business is dependent on India and China and othe
    r countries for leveraging identities. Hence it is not proper to generalize one's finding based on just the sorroundings one is in............
    • Arthur
    • Manager, Apartment Manager
    You want to know when people are lying, become an over seer of ordinary people, not some people in a lab. A person that is seeking the truth in ALL things, will have a "feeling" that something is not correct. Come, do my job for a week, and then you will know. I could have saved you a lot of money. In fact, next time you want to study people, study the street that I live on. Most people will tell the truth with a lie in them most of the time. Most people will add something to what ever they are saying. Most people are use to lying just to lie, because the human condition wants the control, or don't want to get into trouble so they are use to just saying things that get the attention from others, so lying is part of life.
    Very few people are in the middle. Most people don't consider the other people's emotions in their dealings, even on a small scale, so if they lie, who cares? I study people as a hobby, so I kind of know the personas of people in general. I could tell you stories about people that you could write "papers" on. But to know if something is a lie or not, it takes time. It takes seeking the answers to off the wall questions, and believe me, I have had to ask those questions. I have had to seek the truth in big things and small things, and most of the time, it takes time, but you may have to be someone that you may not want to be, and when that's the case, you have to take your self out of the whole situation and make it about the subject, and deal with several subjects at once, but still stay on the main subject as a whole. People will say one thing, and then go on to another subject to get away from the main subject. You have to choose words that are non judgemental, an
    d make the person/people see your way. Not to make them look like "stupid", but they make themselves stupid. You have to seem like a "non threat", so they can trust you. You have to become them, but with out lies. You have to make the reason the most important thing in the world, even if it's not. You have to use words like, "I understand, but that's not what I am referring to, I am referring to..." and bring back up the main topic. You want to know when people are lying, again I say, come study my street. Deal with the people that I deal with. And then you will have a study that will win you some prize. Thank you.
    • Celso Maia
    • Researcher and Finance & Administration Consultant, KPI
    Adding a comment to Mr. James Polichak?s partial argument, not only the context is important, also, we must remenber that regionalities and national culture may influence the liar detection through speech. In some cultures, it is not accepted as good manner or polite, to use first person to state some accomplishments. To what refers profanity, similar speech is not accepted in most of serious conversations and negotiations anyway almost anywhere in the ethic business world. The research suppositions, hipothesis, may not be applicable universally using same criteria.
    It is good much heathier to know the tricks of liars. So that the small business ike mine have become countless victim of liars possing to be business executives.
    • Ian Jones
    • President, BGI Group
    Case Study: As a Real Estate Developer we are in continuous negotiations whether it be land, regulatory authorities,consultants, and contractors. As a Christian I try to maintain integrity through it all. Contractors are notorious for aiming high on claims for extra payment. Case in point: contractor made a claim of $800,000.00 for schedule delay. At the face to face negotiation I had two piles of paper in front of me (one 6 inches high, the other half an inch high). I told them we could solve this one of two ways and pointed to each pile of paper without elaborating on what each pile contained. They assumed that the 6 inch pile would be a 3 year court battle producing much much less than the amount they were seeking -if they were successful at all. They settled at our number of $200,000 which was backed by irrefutable fact. Since the 6 inch pile had nothing to do with the project, am I a liar, a deceptive person, or a good negotia
    tor? "
    I often tell the other side " I may not tell you everything due to negotiation, but what I do tell you is the truth.." Does that sound like I am in fact lying while trying to convince them of the truth - when it really is the truth...
    • AdeloVant
    • Technology Innovation Analyst, retired
    "Want to know if someone's lying to you? Telltale signs may include running of the mouth, an excessive use of third-person pronouns, and an increase in profanity."

    I agree, with comment, tall-tale signs may include first-person (I, Me, My, Mine) pronouns when taking credit for success, and first-person (we, us, our, ours) pronouns when deflecting the blame for failure.
    • Michael Weiner
    • President/CEO, PreConstruction Catalysts, Inc
    Outside of the laboratory, in the real world, I have found that the ratio of what I call "The Liars, Cheats and Thieves Club" is more likely 80% Liars:20% Truth. While the study is a useful bit of information, finding truth is something that requires probing on the part of the truth-seeker- a skill which, unfortunately, is learned more through experience and time than in a classroom environment. I cannot agree that just because someone runs at the mouth or swears excessively puts them into the category of a liar. While it may be unpleasant for those around such a person, it is what it is. It is not necessarily an indication of a liar.

    Withholding information which may be beneficial to the other side, as a negotiator, is not necessarily lying by ommission-- it depends on each particular "deal".

    I believe the real world has more valuable data to be gleaned than a controlled study. There is one differentiator or factor that must be incorporated: Greed. It is Greed that is the underlying cause of lying, cheating and stealing, in my experience.

    I have learned that one tell-tale sign for a liar is when they use incorrect terminology in their conversation... it is a red flag when a person uses changed terminology different from the actual term being discussed. Improper terms are usually an indicator that the person does not truly know his/her material and is "winging it". The mere fact that they would make up a different term means further digging to get to the person's truth.

    That said, thank you for the research. It has some value for those who may wish to hone their radar to detect a lie, but in my opinion, there is no better teacher than the "school of hard knocks" and dealing with a lot of different people over time to learn what
    • Carole Diamante
    • Research Faculty, Assumption College Phils.
    This article is an eye opener for me as a Filipino. You see, coming from a country that had been colonized and often visited by many foreigners, we always perceive foreigners as "always lying to us". Historically, they took away our sovereignty, our lands, even our dignity and identity as a people. We had been called a "damaged culture" by foreigners who dared write our history. It was hard for us in this generation to believe foreigners coming to our shores for business purposes, but you see, like most developing countries, we must join the global business world. It is culturally quite hard to have faith in strangers especially foreigners nowadays just as it is difficult to believe in ourselves. Scientific researches like this one, involving body language and usage of profanities might help my people look at foreigners in a different perspective. If we can be helped to spot a liar and those who are honest with
    us, then perhaps, we may start healing ourselves of colonial purgation from within.
    • Deborah Young
    • Director, FRB Atlanta
    To Ivan Blanco's comment: Amen!
    • Satya Phaniteja
    • student
    Its indeed a great observation but it would be great if the researchers also consider the political liars who is more dangerous and take more steps to justify their lies. The probability of getting political volunteers is very low but the researchers can look forward for such possible situations to trigger the effect and get the outcome.

    Finally this is very informative knowing about the organisational liars but it would be more interesting and more research oriented process if its done in the political arena.
    Thanks to Mr. Malhotra for a very interesting study.
    • Richard Shepherdson
    • Mediator, Norfolk Workplace Mediation
    The title 'How to spot when a person is lying' is more accurate (truthful) than 'How to spot a liar'. If somebody steals from you it is more helpful to say, 'He stole from me' than, 'He is a thief'. If someone hits you, it is preferable to say that they hit you than, 'He is violent', in the same way as it is more respectful to say that a person has a disability than, 'They are disabled'.

    We are none of us completely honest nor completely dishonest. When I notice that somebody is not being completely straight with me I try to take responsibility and ask myself how I can change in order to help the other person be more honest with me. I find it more helpful than blaming the other guy.

    I'm just such a wonderful person aren't I?
    • Gianluca Brunetti
    • HR Director, EESC (Europan Union)
    The problem is greater with "serial" liars, because in the long term once their behaivour becomes well known, it affects the normal relations with coworkers who are never sure of what is at stake and tend to adopt the same behiavour in a defensive approach
    • Baboloki Boniface Reetsang
    • General Manager, Benefits Administration, Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund
    Liars normally are not able to repeat what they said ealier, they tend to forget very quickly what they said earlier. On the other hand, truth tellers will always say the same story which they told you earlier even if you wake them up from a deep sleep. The truth is factual, while lies are invented statements.
    • Mohammed Alnajjar
    • Conultant Civil Engineer, ASO
    How to Spot a Liar?
    The article is interesting , in addition most articles hided(titled) by a question are usually promising
    To spot a Liar by using face or other reactions signs especially in business negotiations is not an easy task simply because what motivates a person who is in charge to arrive to an end for such a negotiation is many, and even if he is a honest guy he will find himself defending what his boss or his organization find reasonable justification(from their point of view) to defend goals they like to arrive to from conducting such a negotiation, and I was lucky enough that I shifted to read this article in Twitter after I was reading the book "Blink" by Gladwell, which was "I think ",sailing in the same direction, and which also support the use of such signs to arrive to convincing conclusion.
    I have to add something to give the approach more power hopefully,
    I remembered the puzzle about "the information desk attendant who can answer only one question about the direction you have to take to arrive to your destination (left or right ), the problem is that there is two shift one of them is a Liar! , so your only question should be formed in a way that who ever you were asking (the liar or his friend ) you can arrive to the correct direction
    the smart question is: " If I ask your friend which direction I should go to arrive to my city .what his answer will be?"
    definitely the honest will tell you his friend wrong answer, and the lair well tell the wrong answer" it is a matter of principal :)", so all you have to do to arrive to the 100% correct direction is to follow the " opposite direction ""this has nothing to do with famous TV PROGRAM :)".
    So you can before conducting the negotiation meeting prepare 3 or 4 smart questions which can put the negotiator in the same information desk , this in addition to the signs might give stronger feeling about who is the liar 'of course you have to criticize me as well" :)
    • Amratesh Tiwari
    • Entrepreneur/Student, Eclipsis
    Thanks for the heads up. Next time I'll lie better, omitting third person pronouns and profanity and keeping the other body language signs in mind.
    • roza zarandia
    • linguist, at self imployed
    I like the research results, but nevertheless, they mostly depend on a person's intuition and experience--in my opinion.
    • Helene
    • Organizer, Publisher, Rare disease researcher
    Interesting read...believing a liar will also eventually hang themselves is also a great meter! I continue to believe that liars are so good at what they do that it is a "way of life" for them and they honestly do not know the difference! They lie to cover up a lie..This happens in so many non profit organizations and business that are small in size. Who will catch Pinnocchio if they are posing as a leader..
    • Anonymous
    I would just like to point out the sample size. In a sample of 104, where 70% of the participants told the truth, only 31 could have been lairs or deceivers. That means one of those two groups had to have 15 or less members. I would also venture to guess that of those 31, one group was probably significantly larger than another, with a group likely close to, or smaller than, 10 people. While it is interesting to see some of these results, it would be wise to retain a bit of skepticism - nothing is absolute with a 10 man sample size.

    For example, perhaps the receivers tended not to trust the deceitful allocators in this experiment not because deception is less effective than outright lying, but because successful deception in this context was more difficult. Or perhaps the the deceivers were less successful because they were less intelligent, and most could see that it would be much easier to go with an outright lie.

    Another consideration is that deception is more of a feel-good way of lying. People who chose to deceive might sleep a little better at night because they can honestly say to themselves, "I didn't tell anyone a lie." Participants who are attracted to this slight moral benefit are likely people who aren't used to outright lying, and would therefore be less likely to perform well under pressure.
    • Coach Quit
    • Smoking Cessation Author, Coach Quit .com
    Ferreting out Liars is a bit Complicated!

    I have had a lifelong interest in (among other things) learning how to figure out if someone was lying to me.

    I wanted to learn this because I wanted to go into business and (as a kid when I decided this) thought this was really one of the most important problems to solve.

    I learned at an early age that my mom had a particularly tyrannical way of discovering who did what. She would accuse you. It was up to you to give very good reasons to defend yourself, or she would believe you did it.

    So, she claimed you are guilty and you had to prove innocence! If not you are guilty and in trouble. So she would ask why you did it, not if. I learned at that time that time that this method was pretty effective. In this scenario she got all the wrong doers and a few of the innocent. It would be hard to use this in most situations at least directly. But you could say, how do you know? Well, it could be like this right? And why do you know about this great idea, and no one else?

    At some point, you will test their patience a little, and they may not have answers that they should have.

    If the lie is about something important then deep knowledge of the history of the person and the scenario is very helpful. Like poker for instance. What I think distinguished a Pro from others, is a numbers skill, of course, but that is just a small edge. Where they really beat you is they can predict when you will bluff (lie)! They do it by understanding your circumstances and frame of mind. They also understand what level of player you are, which tells them the tactics you are likely to understand. This increases their odds of winning big time.

    They may also watch your body language. But the most important is to understand how you play, and with this they know what you have by how you react to their raise for instance. Usually the only thing that will beat a pro at a table of amateurs is getting exceptionally bad cards the whole night, and "bad luck". Otherwise, they have no trouble winning.

    This is important because, you need to do the same thing as a pro in a "lying" situation. Understand the "ability to lie" the person has. Then understand what the person wants, and wants you to believe. They will downplay important things. They will have an assumption as to your
    understanding of the essential things to know. If they are wrong and think you know little about the subject, but you actually know a lot, you will catch them lying or stretching the truth.

    So in such cases real verification of the important stuff will either not come, or in the worst cases, will be poorly verified, or out right forged.

    This is why too good to be true stuff works, because having a sense that this may be an "abnormal" deal or situation that is being offered is very helpful and puts you on edge. Added to this is the desire of people to want what is being said to be true! So they find reasons to believe, and hope for the best without checking things out. don't be that person!

    I put this type of person into a category of a person that himself believes a lot of other things that are not true. This suggests that many people believe things NOT based on the information. Because they can't handle the information (don't know enough), and can't tell what it should be.

    So, how the person dresses, speaks, acts etc. are what is important. And, this is not what you want to base a decision on.
    • Sweta Mohapatra
    • HR Business Partner, Vodafone
    Extremely interesting comment "As it turns out, some people will lie and cheat in business!" , and to me bald faced lies is more concerning - leads to most integrity issues and concerns raised by others. Deception by omission is interestingly encouraged through confidentiality norms, protocols, formal and informal structures in traditional workplaces. No wonder in as you grow more senior in these firms, the are more stressed out and unfulfilled you are. Like prof rightly points out , too much cognitive energy is spent in being politically agile , that totally involves either of the two phenomena.
    • Maxine
    • Managing Partner, Globelink Partners
    I am curious if Prof. Malhotra believes we can extrapolate these results across cultures in any way. Thanks, Maxine
    • Celso Maia
    • Researcher. Finance & Administration Consultant, KPI
    Some definitions like:

    Liars spoke in more complex sentences than either omitters or truth tellers.

    may both vague and dangerous, once the counterpart have to be a reasonable person to make a fair judgement of what she or he is hearing.

    Let us for instance, admit that lies have a direct link with dishonest behavior. I red the following article:

    The Dishonesty of Honest People:
    A Theory of Self-Concept Maintenance.

    Nina Mazar, On Amir and Dan Ariely, made a research and found that "It is almost impossible to open a newspaper or turn on a television without being exposed
    to a report of dishonest behavior of one type or another. To give a few examples, "wardrobing"--
    the purchase, use, and then return of the used clothing--costs the U.S. retail industry an
    estimated $16 billion annually (Speights and Hilinski 2005); the overall magnitude of fraud in
    the U.S. property and casualty insurance industry is estimated to be 10% of total claims payments,
    or $24 billion annually (Accenture 2003); and the "tax gap," or the difference between
    what the IRS estimates taxpayers should pay and what they actually do pay, exceeds $300 billion
    annually (more than 15% noncompliance rate; Herman 2005). If this evidence is not disturbing
    enough, perhaps the largest contribution to dishonesty comes from employee theft and fraud that
    has been estimated at $600 billion a year in the U.S. alone -- an amount almost twice the market
    capitalization of General Electric (Association of Certified Fraud Examiners 2006)."

    Figures are really imopressive. This makes us wonders that behind the scenes there?s a number of rules, laws, regulations that make somehow useless, the efforts to spot when somebody is lieing (agreeing with RICHARD SHEPHERDSON).

    A number of comments state that the lieing world outpasses the truth world a up to a 80/20 proportion, so seems that even if we do not accept it by moral reasons, there is a flexibility, accordance and tollerance, that make each one of us accept lie and liars up to the extent that it does not cause major damages or losses of any kind. How many of us, are brave enough to unmask a liar? What if the liar is your boss? Your wife/husband? what if the lie is raised during a social meeting? What if in front of people that you know very well, or you dont know at all?
    At the end of the day, how useful can be knowing or mastering how to spot when somebody is lying? (of course, trials, confrontations and investigations does not count).
    Like Ellen Naylor says, it?s just human nature.
    What is a lie after all?

    Maybe we all should start thinking what we have to do after we spot a lie. Check "The Invention of Lying" a 2009 movie by Matthew Robinson and try to figure it out.
    • Richard Ellison
    • Investment Stratigist; Author, Ellison (ECP)
    Good advice, Deepak & Max; that is pretty much what I have learned over the years of Purchasing for a major NY firm, and in researching investments. And now you give me timely advise for inclusion in my next novel.
    You are worth an "A".
    • GUY D.
    • President & CEO, Food Allergy Daily Deals
    Succeeding at deception was mentioned in the article as being more effective to outright lie and as being a more Machiavellian strategy, BUT it's more successful.

    The "but" qualifier appears to me as a softening measure for using a Machiavellian strategy. And here's my own "but" --- but right or wrong, isn't Machiavelli and "The Prince" all about achieving one's objectives and being effective/successful?

    We must be aware that business is not about enacting popular measures. It requires intelligent choice , ingenuity, intuition and acting swiftly and with precision in a timely fashion for business effectiveness.

    Your research is insightful and helpful in pointing out the need to be aware for occurences fo deception, omission and untruths.
    • Jeremy Shackleford
    interesting study. I would imagine that experienced negotiators pick up on these subtle cues either instinctively or by process, and may even be self conditioned to push, or toy with the resistance around these "soft" spots once they pick up the scent of a lie or omission.
    • Anonymous
    • -, -
    Interesting. Seems like a 5th Grader wrote it.
    Delightful to read but zero applicability.
    Not something that can be generalized. Instead of reading this and learning how to detect lie, go talk to the omitters' mother. She will point out the lie immediately.
    • Stephen Malouf
    • Managing Partner, Malouf & Cie
    everyone should read this book by Deepak Malhotra and Max H. Bazerman

    An summary paper was initially written in HBR and a few years later on, I actually read the book cover to cover 2X

    Brilliant !
    • RC
    The movie "The Malteze Falcon" is an entertaining way to observe liars, and deceivers when a large bounty is at stake. The writers created a quick dialogue (that we can now pause and replay with our DVRs) to appreciate the gamesmanship.

    So when you ask a liar, "Are you lying to me?" what would the answer be?
    • Paul Nicholas
    • Director, Soul-Chaplain Consultancy
    Fabulous - thank you! I'll keep this short, but isn't it fascinating to think that often "our eyes deceive our earsight" and the best thing one can do in an interaction is close our eyes and listen.
    • Sam Legree
    • Writer, Independent
    The Israelis have used sophisticated language analysis techniques as part of their anti-terrorist methods. These are used at the border when they have to interview potential terrorists. The interviewers are trained in observing language as well as body language.