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How to tell when your boss is lying (economist.com)
47 points by jazzdev on Aug 19, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 27 comments

I've been in such situation. I totally agree with the "as you know..." type. What they were trying consistently on us was to tell us we're not getting a raise because "as we know" the business hasn't been doing so well, we're expensive etc.

By giving you 5 arguments to which you nod positively, they then enforce their point as to why (bs reasons) there is no money for you.

It takes a few years to read between the lines, hence why so many of those crooks bosses like to hire you straight out of uni.

This is not really new knowledge. Somewhere around 15 years ago I bought an audio-cassette tape course on negotiating, and some of the clues to know when the other party was lying were prefix phrases like "Frankly...."; "To tell the truth....."; "Honestly....."; "As you know...." etc. along with excessive hyperbole in general.

Well, I wish I had that tape 10 years ago.

I use those phrases when I am being frank, truthful, honest, and when I am relating to what people already know.

Wow, I must seem like the biggest liar on earth to the people that have read those books and listened to those tapes.

A different article on the paper from a week ago, which links to the paper: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1599914

edit: might as well link it directly -> https://gsbapps.stanford.edu/researchpapers/library/RP2060%2...

The article ends on a bit of a depressing note:

The real winners will be public-relations firms, which now know to coach the boss to hesitate more, swear less and avoid excessive expressions of positive emotion.

I suppose so, but how many of us will ever be directly reporting to a boss who's gotten such training?

In the context of big(er) companies reporting on their financial results this matters, but we are often the type of insiders who can predict that a company is in trouble, even if figuring out the timing is difficult.

I seem to have a real knack for figuring it out. I've identified the storms coming several times and bailed safely before any storm all but one time. That one was tricky because nothing material changed in the company and I was a recent hire (<6 months) so didn't have a good feel for the company yet (the fact nothing material changed was the whole problem...)

It really isn't that hard to recognize if you poke your head above the cubicle walls on occasion. The real trick is being able to figure out where you stand in those situations.

This is the problem with detecting lying based on verbal cues: they're really easy to fabricate. The most reliable way to detect lying is by picking up on a person's involuntary nonverbal cues. If you are good enough at picking up on them, you can easily tell when someone is lying.

The problem with non-verbal cues is that one has to have video or be physically present in the room to observe them. The paper was conducting an analysis of investor conference calls, where the investors on the other side of the line had no idea what sort of gestures the executive was making.

Assuming they haven't had practice at suppressing nonverbal cues, anyway.

These cues can be suppressed, and most people do so naturally without any practice. The thing is that these cues happen unconsciously. They usually show up before the conscious intellect can suppress them.

Let me give you an example. Oliver North was summoned to Congress to testify about the whole Iran Contra affair. I forget what the question was, but the important part was North's response. If you watch closely, you can see his lower lip extend below his upper lip for a split second: he pouted. He was upset by the question somehow, but didn't want to show it, so he quickly suppressed it.

Apart from psychopaths, there are very few people (less than 1%) who can totally suppress these types of cues.

Maybe if you're taping someone you might be able to catch something, but it's very difficult in my experience to catch a tell from a practiced liar live - a part of one of my hobbies involves catching people lying, so I've had a little experience.

Tell us more! :)

Unfortunately, I'm not the best person to go into much detail. If you're interested in this subject, I'd highly recommend checking out "Telling Lies" by Paul Ekman: http://books.google.com/books?id=7I_wDDfrwCgC&dq=ekman+t...

Fascinating article.

But how can a company possibly stay alive for very long if, rather than confining itself to lying to its rivals to keep ahead in the competitive marketplace, it starts lying to itself and its own?

If your company's internal culture develops the practice of deceit - deceit between superiors and subordinates, deceit between superiors, deceit between subordinates and ultimately deceit towards customers - how can you expect the firm to remain fit for purpose for very long?

Who would want to live in a Stirnerite environment where everybody routinely bones up on Machiavelli and Nineteen Eighty Four and keeps the knives sharpened while watching for others attampting to stab you in the back all the time?

Its a valid question. The answer is that it depends on the industry. Sure, if you're a small or mid-sized technology start-up, infighting and backbiting will bring down the firm in months. But if you're in a monopoly position (e.g. Microsoft), or in a non-competitive market (e.g. banks), your company makes money by default. As such, there is a much larger threshold before the drag caused by politics becomes significant enough to affect the performance of the firm.

Given this, it would be interesting to have a program that would predictively tell you if a CFO or CEO was lying. Then you could short companies based on that info.

http://www.biadvisors.com sells this behavioral analysis of investor calls as a service.

Or buy them. Depends what they were lying about, and whether other people have overreacted already.

I think I'm more likely to use these "tells" to know if someone I'm investing in is lying.

Though to be fair I work in a small company where I know my boss very well so the point probably don't apply.

Tip: his lips are moving.

Ok, lets turn this from a simple joke to a question... say one asks just how much one feels it applies to their boss, and one's evaluation of it is somewhere between "rather true" and "very true". What does that entail, if anything? Jump ship immediately, or at the next good prospect? Or what?

I guess the answer would depend on how important your boss is to your job. If you can't trust your boss but he's just some line manager in a ten-deep chain who doesn't really affect what you do on a day-to-day basis, maybe it doesn't impact you. On the other hand, maybe it's a sign of a toxic corporate culture, centered more around backstabbing and individual achievement than a whole-company team-based approach, and if you left tomorrow it wouldn't be soon enough. Like most metrics, the perceived truthfulness of one's boss really discards too much context to be useful, absent other data, for evaluating something like this.

Lying is endemic in corporate culture; success in corporations is not the same as being good at your job. Watch out for Snakes in suits.

I suggest creating or finding a work situation where the group isn't big enough for bosses, and thus corporate culture.

Get out of there quickly, for sure. I think nathanb's comment below should drive how quickly you leave, not if you leave.

"It's not just that his lips are moving"

You mean he lies even more often?

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