BUSINESS | LIFE | LESSONS

L Is For Lying

Lying is something that very few people are good at. And most are not. Even when someone gets away with lying, it is more a reflection of the person they are lying to, than their actual skill — if lying can ever be considered a skill — in convincing somebody that their misrepresentations, distortions or falsehoods had actually occurred.

Part of the reason for this is that we are hard-wired to believe people. It takes a lot of confidence to question the validity of what somebody is purporting to be factual. Especially, if you have little by way of hard evidence to contradict it.

This raises the question of when is a lie, not a lie? The answer is actually a lie is not a lie when the (alleged) liar:

  • does not intend to deceive or mislead
  • believes that what they're saying is true

So, if either of these points exists, the ‘liar’ isn't a ‘liar’ – if an employee doesn't know that they are lying, then they’re not! Simple!

This doesn't mean everything an employee says will necessarily be true but they might think it is!

A few years ago, somebody actually accused me of lying in the middle of a grievance investigation I was conducting for a client. At the start of my investigation, I informed the employee who had lodged a grievance against their manager, I had been engaged as an independent investigator; I hadn't met their manager previously, nor had I in fact been to the factory where they worked before.

I then conducted an investigation, which included interviewing them on two or three occasions. Having concluded my investigation, some weeks later I produced a report and was subsequently called as a witness at the grievance hearing. At the hearing, the grievance officer asked the employee if they had anything to say before the discussions commenced and they said they did.

What they said was that when I initially introduced myself and claimed to be independent, they "…knew" I was lying. They added this was because they had (allegedly and incorrectly) seen me leave the site with their manager a few weeks before I had first met them, thereby totally contradicting what I had told them.

I was somewhat taken aback, as their statement was completely without foundation. But it wasn't actually a lie, as I believe that they genuinely thought it was true. They must have seen somebody who looked something like me, and later – having met me – put two and two together and made…twenty-six!

Unfortunately, had they challenged me when I first met them and made my introductory statement, I would've been able to prove they were wrong. But they didn't. Despite my repeated denials, they were adamant they were right. But they weren't.

They said something that was untrue, but it wasn't a lie because they didn't know it was untrue. I said something that was correct, but they thought that it was a lie, even though it wasn't. Does anyone have a polygraph machine?

In most situations, mistakes, or errors of fact can be corrected.

But what about situations where the lie is both deliberate and constructed, with the sole intention to deceive?

I find it helpful to think of the truth, and lies, visually.

The truth is what we experience every day, as we live our lives. It has colour, smells, depth. It is three-dimensional, interactive, noisy and multi-faceted. It is never-ending.

Whereas lies — those deliberate, constructed stories — the telling of which are intended to deceive look more like this.

Linear. One way. Black and white. Little by way of added detail. With a beginning and an end. Nothing to distract, or contradict the view portrayed.

Why? Because the images (or lies) have to be easy to remember to be successful. No (figurative) alleyways to go down. Just a journey from A to B.

Which of the above two images would you rather describe or remember? Which would you most want to be ‘tested’ on? Most would say the second image due to its simplicity.

Think about the questions you might ask about this image.

However, what tends to be the problem with a lie (and a liar), is they don’t stand up to close scrutiny. The liar doesn’t like disruption. They don’t like added colour or additional facts, because they haven’t necessarily learnt or practised them. But there is always more to a story (or in this case a picture) than meets the eye.

While the liar, may want to take you up through their version of events in a particular direction— to explain the journey they took on a particular day, as an alibi for the fact they weren’t somewhere else— what happens if you don’t allow them to take you on their journey? What happens if you take their story and turn it on its head, or add colour and detail of your own? How convincingly can they answer questions when you distract them in this way?

I picked the black a white image — taken by a photographer called Andris Romanovskis — from the internet at random. But despite this, it contained clues worthy of exploration, just as the black-and-white analogous lie does. So I googled ‘21 Kent Terrace’ — the building shown in the picture, and this is what my simple search produced.

This ‘black and white’ lie, now has colour. It also has depth and texture & thanks to Google Streetview three dimensions. The grey building is actually a Mexican restaurant. The increasingly colourful, and three-dimensional lie, now has smells and tastes. Both the restaurant and neighbouring hotel, may have had guests, at different times of the day, depending upon their differing opening times. As might the Indian restaurant further down the street. Details that the liar may not know. May not have ‘learnt’.

As well as added detail, it is often useful to disrupt the chronology of the lie. Lies tend to me ‘learnt’ in a particular order. Starting at the beginning, and move in a logical, memorable, order. From A to B to C, and so on. The liar is less able to explain the sequence in reverse order, or from the perspective of someone else who may have witnessed the events.

Whilst these images are purely (quite literally) illustrative, they aim to show that given the right level of questioning, the amateur liar can usually be caught out. Their lies uncovered and the truth revealed.

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Paul Helsby HR

Paul Helsby HR

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HR Consultant @ PR-HR Solutions Ltd. Writing to share experiences — good and bad — gained from 25+ years in HR.