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A boss I had once gave away his lies with a gulp in his throat immediately before and after the lie exited his mouth. Once I heard the gulp, I dismissed any and everything that had followed or preceded it.

Our last landlord, the one we had 40-plus years ago, gave herself away with the glazed look in her eyes, looking at empty air when she made up or otherwise embellished a story. We always knew.

I knew one sleazy businessman who gave away his lies with a short “ha-ha” laugh. Ask him a question and he after made up an answer he thought would please you, he added a “ha-ha” exclamation point onto the lie.

Liars give obvious signs that what they are saying is not the entire truth, or maybe any of the truth. We all can identify them.

Most people, far from being “practiced at the art of deception,” have no idea they are giving away the fact they are lying through body language or vocal spasms.

Paul Eckman, of professor of psychology at the University of California in San Francisco, says that catching liars is an art almost anyone can learn. People show tell-tale signs, he says, when they lie. “Liars usually do not monitor, control, or disguise all their behavior.”

In the book The Art of Questioning: Thirty Maxims of Cross-Examination Peter Megargee relates this anecdote.

“Attorney Lloyd Paul Stryker was a keen observer. He would watch carefully how the witness behaved in the courtroom and on the stand. He would rivet his eyes on the quarry during direct examination. . . . He looked for clues in the ways the individual expressed herself or himself. He listened for variations in tone of voice caused by the tightening of vocal chords. He noticed pauses. He noted flashes of anxiety, dryness of mouth, moistening of lips, hesitations, discomfort, and uncalled-for repetitions of coached material. He watched for stammer and for needless reference by the witness to counsel’s name. ‘I never was there, Mr. Prosecutor.’ Eyes were of particular interest. How and when did pupils shift and dart? When did eyes narrow or blink? The giveaway laugh and wipe of forehead. Hands wring, cling, scratch, and readjust. Legs shuffle. A hand touches the pocket with notes taken from his lawyers on what to avoid at all costs.”

We can’t be as accomplished at spotting liars as Lloyd Stryker was without years of practice, but let’s look at some of the obvious body language signs and vocal signals people make that give clues that they may not be telling you the entire truth.

When you ask a question, a “probing point,” just as Stryker did to a witness, watch your applicant or tenant carefully. A probing point may be evident when a word or phrase “touches a nerve” during a conversation.

Your question may elicit a lip-purse, a shoulder-shrug, or a throat-clear, for example. Other signs may be stumbling over words, a higher voice pitch, or repeated swallowing. However, Dr. Paul Eckman points out that “is no guarantee that a lie is being told, but it signifies a hot moment when something is going on you should follow up with interrogation.” The question has hit a sore spot. Is it always something that will disqualify him or her? Of course not. It could just be an unpleasant memory. But you owe it to yourself to find out if it is important to you in your selection process and your decision whether to believe the person you are speaking with.

Body language expert John Mole provides the following list of body-language cues that could indicate someone is lying:
• Touches face
• Hand over mouth
• Pulls ear
• Eyes down
• Glances at you
• Shifts in seat
• Looks down and to the left

How does it work on the field of battle with an applicant in front of you and his or her application in hand? Here’s an example:

Finally! They look and talk like terrific people. They tour the property and pronounce it a “really nice place, someplace we could live forever.” They even talk about how close the unit is to the school their children attend and that they have friends just a couple of blocks away.

The prospect of them living there forever pleases you because the last three tenants have moved out after just a couple of months. Now here is someone who wants to stay a long time.

Hardly able to contain your excitement, you ask a simple question, “Do you think your last landlord will give you a good reference?”

“Oh, sure, no problem,” the wife says as she covers her face with her hand.

“Yeah, we got along—along fine, yeah, uh, fine,” says the husband while pulling his ear lobe. “He’s uh, uh, uh, uh, going to sell the building. That’s why we’re getting kic—, er,. Moving.” At that point, he stares at the ground, seemingly intensely interested in the bug crawling along the sidewalk and glances at you out of the corner of his eye.

Too bad. And here you thought these folks looked promising. You wonder why they don’t just tattoo “LIAR” across their foreheads. You vow to quiz their last landlord after making sure the number they gave you for him on their application is the actual phone number of their last landlord and not of their friends who “live just a couple of blocks away.”

Other things to watch for that indicate deception are pupil dilation and fast blinking rates. Eckman observes that people make “fewer hand movements during deception compared to truth telling.”

No clue assures absolute proof that an applicant’s answers are fabrications. They do mean that the person is anxious or feeling stress. Liars though, other than the pathological subspecies, feel stress or anxiety when they spout their lies.

These cues should arouse suspicion about what they have told you. Remember which question or at what point their body language or vocal quirks indicated deception, and be extra vigilant in checking out that spot on the application. You are simply using your applicant’s body language to give you a better idea about where they might be trying to put one over on you.

Just pay close attention not to just what they say but how they say it.

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