As you try to sort out the exact percentage of truth in what your co-worker tells you, you’ll have to sort through a lot of fillers. Below, I’ve listed a series of strategies to try to extract the truth from your co-worker. Many of these strategies are borrowed from the U.S. Army’s book on interrogations. For more, check out Hartley and Karinch’s book “How to Spot a Liar” (Career Press, 2005).
Ask direct questions. It’s easy to overlook, but often you can catch someone telling a lie by just asking them a series of questions. Don’t shine bright lights in their eyes and pretend it’s a TV detective show, just keep asking questions to give them the opportunity to tell you the truth or admit that they’ve been less than candid in the past.
Do you offer incentives? Anyone who is a regular reader of this column knows that I really believe in the power of incentives. And, unfortunately, the incentives today at many companies encourage white lies, fibs and flat-out lying. That’s why it’s important to correct this mistake and find reasons that you can offer to your co-worker where he’ll be rewarded for telling you the truth.
Do you sometimes reduce the fear? In my experience, a certain amount of lying at work happens because the liar wants to protect the “lie-ee” from being hurt by the truth. Again, be sure to communicate to people that you can handle the truth by not freaking out when you are told something difficult and people just might start making a stronger commitment to reality when they are speaking to you.
Do you use repetition? Hartley and Karinch say that in the west we struggle with repetition. But they say that by just repeating a question a couple of times you can sometimes get the other person to acknowledge that they’re being less than truthful.
Do you use silence? Even tougher than trying to handle the truth, many of us have an even tougher time with silence. We just want to fill it up any silences with words. You can use this to your advantage by giving the other person enough quiet to see whether they’ll choose to hang themselves.
Use these techniques, and hopefully you’ll get a much higher percentage of the truth from you co-worker without having to file a lawsuit.
Our winning strategy for dealing with a liar comes from F.R. in Gainsville, Fla.: “I know the popular opinion is to never deal with a liar. But I disagree. I think it’s not realistic. The key to me is to assume that everyone can lie and to learn how to monitor their truthfulness. Sure it sounds negative, but I’ve learned that the best way to trust people is to test them. It’s worked for me.”