“Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.”
— Tony Montana (Al Pacino), Scarface (1983)
Most of us are familiar with this classic Pacino line. But new research by Melbourne Business School Professor Karen Jehn has revealed that, in 80 percent of cases, customers who were actually being told the truth thought that they were being lied to.
You could chalk this result up to the impact of glib sales people or general consumer cynicism, but the reality is plain: most of your customers think you’re a liar.
So what’s the remedy?
Of course, it helps if you and your company don’t lie – the truth is always more satisfying, not to mention far simpler. After all, now lying can even be identified from how hard you press when handwriting. If you’re having trouble deciding whether or not to veil your cherry-tree-chopping habits, the awaiting social media audience will most certainly invite you to ‘clarify your position‘.
As a result, there is a trend towards business owners/managers – especially those in the retail space – teaching their staff how to appear engaged when dealing with customers. Included in this training is being able to identify and avoid dishonest pantomimes. One would think this is a fundamental skill for a sales person. And how odd to teach employees how to avoid being perceived as a liar when they are telling the truth!
It all calls to mind the great speech about lying by mob boss Vincenzo Coccotti, played by Christopher Walken, in Quentin Tarentino’s 1993 movie True Romance:
You know, Sicilians, are great liars. The best, in the world. I’m Sicilian. My father was the world heavyweight champion of Sicilian liars. From growing up with him, I learned the pantomime. There are seventeen different things a guy can do when he lies, to give himself away. A guy’s got seventeen pantomimes. A woman’s got twenty, guy’s got seventeen. But, if you know them, like you know your own face, they beat lie detectors all to hell. Now, what we got here, is a little game of show-and-tell: You don’t wanna’ show me nothing, but you’re telling me everything.
It’s unclear how much creative licence Tarantino took when composing this dialogue, but a quick trawl of the web reveals at least 23 liar pantomimes (list below).
So what’s the take away? Be truthful, be genuine, be real. Your customers might still think you’re full of dung, but they’ll know you believe it. And that’s all you can really ask.
23 LIAR PANTOMIMES
- A liar will limit or stiffen physical expression, with few arm and hand movements. The liar will move hand, arm, and leg toward his own body in order to take up less space and become harder to see.
- A liar will avoid making eye contact with you when lying to you. While the liar may have no ability to hold a gaze for any length of time, a sociopath liar might look you in the eyes without difficulty for a long time.
- A liar tends to touch the face, throat and mouth, and touch or scratch the nose or behind their ear. A liar will not likely touch the chest/heart with an open hand. The liar covers the mouth as if to cover the lie.
- A liar botches the timing between emotions gestures/expressions and words. Example: Someone says, “I love it!” when receiving a gift and then smiles after making that statement, rather than at the same time the statement is made. Micro-expressions may flash on the liar’s face that do not comport with the liar’s verbal responses.
- Gestures/expressions don’t match the verbal statement, such as frowning when saying “I love you.”
- The liar limits expressions to mouth movements, instead of using the whole face, when faking emotions (like happy, surprised, sad, awe). Normally a non-liar involves the whole face when expressing emotion – jaw/cheek movement, eyes and forehead push down, etc.
- A guilty person gets defensive. An innocent person will often go on the offensive. Or, the accused may become the accuser by pointing the finger and projecting the misdeed elsewhere. The liar may overreact by immediately behaving angry and defensive, perhaps to try to force a change of subject or to make the person submit to the liar’s story.
- A liar feels and acts uncomfortable facing his questioner/accuser and may turn his head or body away. The liar may fidget a lot and generally look uncomfortable.
- A liar might unconsciously place objects (book, coffee cup, etc.) between the two of you.
- A liar will use your words to make an answer to the question. When asked, “Did you eat the last cookie?” The liar answers, “No, I did not eat the last cookie,” or “Are you asking me if I ate that cookie?”
- A statement with a contraction has a greater likelihood of truthful content: ” I didn’t do it” instead of “I did not do it”
- Liars sometimes avoid “lying” by not making direct statements. They imply answers instead of denying something directly.
- The guilty person may speak more than normally, adding unnecessary details to convince you… the liar feels uncomfortable with silence or pauses in the conversation. The liar may start talking way too fast or completely change pitch or tone of voice.
- A liar may leave out pronouns and speak in a monotonous tone. In a truthful statement the liar will emphasise the pronoun as much as or more than the rest of the words in a statement.
- A liar may garble words or speak them softly, and make errors in grammar and syntax. In other-words, the liar will muddle sentences rather than emphasise them.
- A liar will feel a desire to leave the area so as to escape further notice or scrutiny, and may look toward possible escape routes or fabricate an excuse like “I have to go to the bathroom again.”
- A liar will often exhibit different mannerisms while lying than during normal conversation – any slight changes can have significance. For example, a person trying to remember a detail might normally look upward, but look downward when lying. You fare best if you know how the subject behaves during normal conversation before beginning the interrogation. In other words, soften the subject up, put the subject at ease, and notice how the subject normally acts. Then, when you discern any differences during interrogation, those differences constitute clues that the subject might want to hide the truth.
- A liar will willingly and with relief change the subject, while a non-liar would try to return to the original subject. A liar may avoid the subject by making sarcastic or humorous remarks.
- A liar tends to blink frequently as though unconsciously hiding thoughts, but revealing them instead. Note that some people blink a lot normally when not lying.
- The liar’s eyebrows become raised. This by itself does not prove lying, but it tends to signify defensiveness. A liar aware of the tendency to blink a lot may raise the eyebrows in order to compensate. People seem to have trouble avoiding this indicator to lying.
- The liar may play dumb. “What are you talking about?” or “Why would you say that?” and of course looking appropriately shocked and confused.
- The liar, needing more time to think, may stammer and pause in between comments as if trying to gather thoughts. Look for a subtle “thinking time” delay between asking the question and obtaining the answer – the delay can suggest lying.
- The liar may sweat more than normal during questioning.