Nick Jaber knows a thing or two about deceiving customers. Two years ago, he was convicted in a scheme to bilk New York apartment-seekers of fees for a nonexistent service. “I was too believable,” he says.
Today, Jaber says he can spot a lie from a mile away. “I can pick up the telltale signs,” he says. “I know what a client feels when they see the truth and the same for how they feel when they think they are being lied to.”
The biggest red flag? Perfection, he says. “Is the product perfect in every way shape or form?” he asks. “The too-good-to-be-true phrase comes to mind. If you have a question and the immediate answer is ‘yes we can do it’ for everything, be wary.”
Companies lie all the time. Just have a look at the Federal Trade Commission’s list of consumer complaints, and it quickly becomes apparent that corporate America is busy misleading us.
You don’t have to be a victim. Here are five ways to tell if you’re being lied to:
1. Ask tough questions – and pay attention to the answers
Don’t be afraid of asking hard questions, says publicist Bonnie Russell. For example, does the company put this service in writing with a “satisfaction guaranteed”warranty? How long has this service been offered? Do you have references? Then note the response.
“What I’m watching for is the sales person’s reaction,” she says. “If they blink and step back, lean back or go back to their sales script, that’s a yellow light warning.” If the sales person starts getting flustered, then he or she may not be telling the whole truth.
2. Watch for suspicious body language
That’s the advice of Pamela Meyer, author of the book Liespotting. “Know your subject’s laugh, posture, fidget patterns, so that when he or she veers from his norm on a hard question, you take note,” she advises. Research has shown that someone who is being deceptive will freeze their upper body, look you in the eye an uncomfortably long period of time to appear honest, speak with a slightly higher pitch, and exhibit “post-interview relief” when the hard questions are over, like a slump in posture and relaxed look and change in breathing rate that accompanies a big sigh when the interview appears to be over.
3. Focus on the eyes
As Meyer already hinted, the eyes are a giveaway. Others agree. In fact, if you pay attention to nothing else, just look at the eyes, says Nat Wasserstein, a certified fraud examiner and managing director for a business crisis management firm. “People who are telling you a lie have difficulty making eye contact,” he says. “Sometimes they look down. Sometimes they touch their face – usually covering their mouths or rubbing their eyes. Occasionally, I see them pinching of the bridge of the nose. Its almost as if they’re trying to cover something up they just said.”
Truly accomplished corporate liars make longer eye contact, as Meyer noted. Wasserstein has seen it, too. “It’s as if they’re staring me down,” he adds. “Almost like he or she is acting or over-compensating for the cover-up.”
4. Look for an emotional “disconnect”
Corporate liars can’t reconcile the difference between the truth that they know and the lie they are telling, and that leads to a “disconnect,” according to Dan Hill, author of the book Emotionomics.
“For instance, a corner of their mouth may pull wide in fear at the same time that they are giving assurances,” he says. “Or at a pause in the conversation, or before giving the answer, the eyebrows may arch up – again, a fear signal.” Also, look for involuntarily expressed emotions such as contempt (that’s when a corner of the mouth pulls up and away, in a kind of sneer, because the sales associate either doesn’t respect you or doesn’t believe what he’s saying, and doesn’t respect himself).
5. Trust your feelings
Colette Baron-Reid, an expert on human intuition, says people know when they’re being lied to. They just need to be trained to recognize it. “There is a specific exercise that I like to teach people in my intuitive development seminars that helps with discernment,” she says.
“It involves tuning in to the subtle — or sometimes not-so-subtle — symptoms you feel in your body when sensing the difference between a truth or a lie.” You can try it at home: Telling a lie should make you “feel” different than telling the truth. “Once you recognize your own energy, you can then ask, ‘Does this feel like the truth, or like a lie in my body?’” The truth will generally feel like a sense of calm, grounded without much effort – a “just is” sensation. And the lie will set your pulse racing, a sense of “wanting it to be.”
Maybe the most effective tool for seeing a lie is to know that companies lie, and to be prepared for it. Surprisingly few people are, says Jaber. “I would say customers sometimes go into a daze when looking to make a purchase,” he says.
In other words, they’re victims before the first lie is told.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.