When you ask someone a question, you expect to get a truthful answer, right? Well, according to a study by the University of Massachusetts, 60% of people can’t have a ten-minute conversation without telling at least one lie.
We’ve all been in situations where we suspect that we’re being lied to, but because we’ve got good manners, we don’t just go around accusing people of being liars. So is there any way to make sure people are telling you the truth?
If someone looks up and to the left before answering a question, it means they’re lying. Or at least that’s what a lot of us think. Sadly, lie detecting is not that easy.
According to a study from the University of Utah, we need to take a more proactive approach, and focus on the questions we ask. What kind of questions are proven to get us truthful answers?
Let’s say you’re trying to recruit a new employee at the company you work for, and you’re trying to avoid mentioning the toxic work environment that exists there. Would you be more likely to confess to the question “what’s the employee experience like here?” or the question “Are there problems with the work culture here?”
According to the University of Utah study, most of us would come clean with the latter, more presumptive question. In a series of studies, researchers tested how the phrasing of a question could affect whether people answer honestly, or whether they hide the truth.
For the first experiment, they brought in participants to perform a sales pitch for a used electronic device that was known to malfunction. When potential buyers asked the very general question of “what can you tell me about the device?”, only 8% of the sellers admitted to any issues.
Next up was the slightly more assertive, yet still politely posed question: “it doesn’t have any problems, does it?” This time a whopping 61% of the sellers admitted that the device had a history of acting up.
And when the buyers finally went all out and asked the presumptive question “what problems does it have?” 89% of the sellers revealed the truth. So why is the phrasing of a question so important when it comes to answering truthfully?
Well, when you form questions in a presumptive manner, it tells the person you’re asking that you already know something, so it’s probably best for them to be honest. When you ask a more general question, it shows that you’re not as comfortable pursuing your desired information, so the respondent can more easily divert your attention, and avoid coming clean.
So if you want to get an honest answer about something, ask targeted questions that address the topic or problem directly. These will show that you’re smart and assertive and will result in a more honest response.
And here’s a tip from me to you, if you think someone might be lying to you, start asking them for precise details of their story, and look for inconsistencies.
- “The Best Way to Get People to Tell The Truth, According to Science”. 2019. Time. Accessed January 28 2019.
- “Eliciting The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nothing But The Truth: The Effect Of Question Phrasing On Deception”. Minson, Julia A., Eric M. VanEpps, Jeremy A. Yip, and Maurice E. Schweitzer. 2018. Organizational Behavior And Human Decision Processes 147: 76-93. Elsevier BV.
- “60% Of People Can’t Go 10 Minutes Without Lying”. 2012. mentalfloss.com. Accessed January 28 2019.
- “The 8 Biggest Myths About Lying According To The Best Human Lie Detector In The World”. Morin, Amy, 2015. forbes.com. Accessed January 28 2019.