Are You Being Lied To? 16 Clues to Listen For.

By Calibre Press  |   Sep 14, 2020

Part 1 of a 2-Part Series

You’ve all been lied to. It’s part of the business. Many times, your experience and gut instinct help you sense when a subject is trying to pull one over on you and you can nip a lie in the bud. But how many times have you been lied to and didn’t know it?

During a presentation on detecting deception, a retired Maryland State Police investigator and interviewing and interrogation expert shared a list of 16 “evasive verbal responses” suspects may give you in response to some of your questions during interviews. These responses can be used to alert you to the possibility that the subject you’re speaking with might be hiding something and can signal a need for further questioning.

Most people—even criminals—find it extremely difficult and uncomfortable to tell a bold-faced lie so they tell the truth, but only part of the truth. They lie by omission, not commission. By training yourself to key in on certain verbal cues that indicate a person may be offering up a partial truth, you can make yourself less susceptible to being duped.

Here are the first eight of sixteen responses the investigator shared. We’ll share the remaining eight in a second installment.

1. Unfinished business.

Phrases to watch for: That’s about it. That’s the gist of it. That’s about all I know. That’s about all that happened. That’s about all I can tell you. I guess that’s about it. As far as I know, that’s about it. There’s not much more to tell. There’s not much more to say. There’s not much more to it.

If you look closely, phrases like these are actually admissions that there’s more to tell. If someone says, “That’s about it,” they’re not saying “That’s it. There’s nothing else.” They’re saying, “I’ve told you some, but there is more.”

The next time someone ends an interview with, “That’s about it,” trying asking, “That’s about it? Tell me the rest.” If they respond, “No, that’s it,” try confronting them with what they said: “Then why did you say that’s about it?” This increases their level of stress and may yield further indicators, such as an explosion of body language indicators that can help you.

2. “I can’t…”

Phrases to watch for: I can’t say. I can’t think of anything. I can’t tell you anything about that. I can’t really tell you anything. I’m not able to tell you anything. I’m not able to say. I can’t explain anything about that. I couldn’t tell you that. I can just say. I can say this. Here’s what I can tell you.

The subject is telling you the truth; he or she can’t tell you anything about the crime you’re investigating. The big question is why? It’s possible that they actually don’t know anything. But it’s also very possible that he can’t tell you about the crime you’re investigating because if he did, he’d be headed for jail.

3. Hypothetically structure phrase.

Phrases to watch for: I would say not. I would deny that allegation. I should say not. I would deny we were ever in there. I could certainly say. I could say that I did not. Let me say this: I wasn’t involved in anything like that. I’ll say this: no. I could unequivocally deny that.

Phrases like this indicate that the person thinks that the question, should, could, would or ought to be answered, but they’re not going to give you the answer, or at least an honest one.

4. No proof.

Phrases to watch for: There’s absolutely no proof that I was involved. There’s not one piece of proof. Show me the proof. Where’s the proof? They’ll never prove it. No proof exists one way or another. What proof does anyone have?

An example of this type of response in action: A store was burglarized and money was taken from the cash register. To get in the store, a burglar smashed a back window and crawled in. During an interview, a person being questioned was asked, “The person who broke into that store will remember how they gained entry. Do you know if entry was gained by breaking out some glass in a window?” His answer to the question was, “Is that how they got in? I wasn’t there. I don’t know. And besides that, no one can prove I was anywhere near there that night.”

Recall that the question was closed ended: “Do you know if…” The answer should have been a simple yes or no. Instead, the subject skirted the direct answer. Later, he says, “I wasn’t there. I don’t know. And besides that, no one can prove I was anywhere near there that night.” He’s issuing a direct challenge: “Prove it!” Why? It could be that no one can prove he was there because he really wasn’t. But it could also be that he’s confident no one saw him there that night and that he didn’t leave behind any physical evidence that would tie him to the scene. You’ll need to find out which it is.

5. Accusatory.

Phrases to watch for: Are you accusing me of doing that? I don’t like being accused of things like that. I feel like I’m being accused. I feel like I’m being accused of doing something. Who is accusing me of lying about it? That accusation is false. I’ve been accused of stuff before.

Here the subject is asserting that the question you asked is an accusation. An example of this type of evasive response might be if you asked someone you’re interviewing, “Did you steal the money?” and he responds, “I don’t like being accused of things like that.” The answer to the question should have been a simple yes or no. Instead, the interviewee is responding to you as if you said, “You stole the money!” Why? It’s possible that the person is innocent and naturally assumed your question was shrouding an accusation. But it’s also very possible that this evasive response stemmed from a guilty mind-set and the interviewee is challenging you as a defensive mechanism.

6. “The answer is…”

Phrases to watch for: The answer is no. My answer to that is no. That answer is no. That’s a no. I’ll answer no to that.

Here, the easiest and most direct answer to give in the least amount of time with the least amount of effort is, “No.” Instead, the person being interviewed decided to introduce the answer. Evasive responses like this are usually given during a series of closed-ended questions like this:

Did you shoot that man? No.

Were you present when that man got shot? No.

Did you point a gun at that man? No.

Do you know for sure who shot that man? The answer to that is no.

It’s not easy for most people to answer with a direct lie. In this instance, the interviewee is able to answer some questions, possibly those that don’t cause him discomfort, with a direct no. But with the last question, he couldn’t just say no. He had to add some extra words. This may be a strong indication that this particular question causes him enough concern that he’s not comfortable answering it with a direct answer. Why? Maybe because he does know who shot the man.

7. Hard question.

Phrases to watch for: That’s a hard question. That’s a good one. That’s a hard one. That’s a tough one. That’s a tough question. That’s hard to answer. That’s hard for me to say.

Keep in mind that many people who commit crimes prepare themselves for interviews by trying to predict what questions they’ll be asked by interviewers and preparing a list of answers in their heads. During questioning, you’ll probably ask a lot of the things he predicted you would ask. But you might drop a bomb on him by asking something he hadn’t prepared for. His response to a question like that? “That’s a good question.” What’s he really saying? “Whoa! I hadn’t even though of that question. Nice job. That’s a good question.”

8. Objection.

Phrases to watch for: I’m not the kind of person who would do something like that. I’m not the kind of person who would think of doing that. I’m not the kind of person who would ever try to do something like that. I don’t do stuff like that. I don’t do things of that nature. I don’t go around doing those kinds of things. I couldn’t do something like that.

This is a direct objection to the question, similar to when a lawyer stands up in court and yells, “I object, your honor!” Why does he object? Because the answer to the question will not help his case and will likely do him harm. The same goes for a guilty person. If someone knows he stole money from a safe and an interviewer asks him, “Did you steal that money from the safe?” he doesn’t want to say yes, so he objects to the question by asserting that the question is offensive because it’s not in his nature to steal.

Read Part 2

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