Trust is an important element of every great organization. In fact, without it, it’s nearly impossible to function effectively. You rely on your employees every day, so you’re careful to build the right team you can depend on for your business. But, what do you do when a situation occurs and you can’t tell if an employee is lying? As Dina Temple-Raston of NPR found out, to spot a lie, listen, don’t look.
In popular drama series like Lie to Me or The Mentalist, crimes are often solved by interpreting suspects’ facial expressions and body language for tell-tell signs of deception. But, according to Kevin Colwell, a forensic scientist at Southern Connecticut State University, signs of anxiety are often mistaken for signs of deceit. In fact, Temple-Raston reported that research shows innocent individuals actually tend to be more nervous when questioned. Hopefully your employees aren’t committing any crimes, but if you think a team member might be hiding a mistake or covering up for someone else, you can’t always determine the truth based on lack of eye contact, fumbled explanations, or beads of sweat dripping from their forehead.
If you have to confront an employee you think might be hiding something, here are Collwell’s investigative tips as reported by NPR to help you uncover the truth.
Seek information, not a confession. To get to the bottom of a situation, don’t focus on a confession. Focus on getting the information you need. Having tough conversations can be awkward enough, so try to make employees feel comfortable from the start. Keep the grilling to a minimum. Interrogation research has shown that guilty parties prepare for the stress by creating simple and airtight alibis, while the innocent sometimes struggle to communicate when caught off guard by accusations. If it turns out to be an honest mistake or an innocent employee, you don’t want to hurt the trust you’ve already built with them.
Ask simple and easy questions. To get the information you need, start with the easy questions you know they know. This will allow them an opportunity to get comfortable, and the easy questions will also give you the opportunity to gage the length of their response. When you ask more direct questions you can then determine if they’re providing the same kind of information as the easier questions. If your employee is telling the truth they’re more likely to provide more facts and details – 30% more than someone who is lying, according to some research.
Hopefully, you and your team have a strong foundation of trust. But, if you are worried that an employee is lying, remember to search for the facts and listen carefully before you jump to any conclusions.