Fool Me Twice…

Today, I’d like you to be on the look out for a few things. Water buckets propped above doors. Buzzers concealed in people’s hands. Whoopi cushions. I’m not typically the paranoid type but April Fools’ Day brings out the good, the bad, and the humorous in a lot of people. I grew up in a family of pranksters so April 1st was often treated with the reverence of the holiest of holidays—my father being the high priest of pranks.

While April Fools’ Day feels like a day in which tricksters, liars and deceivers have been given social permission to embrace their inner identity, lies and deceit are really a daily occurrence for most of us. Scientists estimate that 25% of your social interactions involve some sort of lie—big or small. We lie to our children as we try to avoid answering those tough—or ridiculous—questions. We lie to our boss and coworkers when we blame traffic—instead of sleepiness—for missing that morning meeting. We even lie to ourselves as we set our clocks ahead by five minutes to keep us on time in the future. According to research conducted by Robert Feldman, author of “The Liar in Your Life”, “two people getting acquainted lie an average of three times in ten minutes.”

Feldman argues however that we all benefit from these lies. They smooth social interactions. They make us feel better when we lie to ourselves. They can even keep us motivated toward a goal. More serious lies can lead to real consequences of course, but the lies we tell on average are pretty inconsequential. In fact, Forbes published an article back in 2005 that declared, “Lying is Good for You.” So don’t feel too bad about yourself if you start notice a few lies here and there.

However, we all hate being duped. And we hate being duped more than once. Yet, we continue to be duped. Charles Bond at the Texas Christian University found that people detect lies only about 54% of the time—just barely better than chance. So psychologists are hard at work trying to build techniques that identify liars better than before. One promising approach is the way we ask questions. Researchers are studying whether certain questions might prompt liars to respond in ways that reveal their deception. There are three types of questions:

  • Open-ended questions which are used to gather information you might use as evidence for or against the lie. “What did you do yesterday?”
  • Direct questions to get to specific facts. “Did you eat my ice cream yesterday?”
  • Presumptive questions presume something forcing the liar to think about how to spin their response. “What did you eat yesterday that may not have been yours?”

Beyond the question, watch their behavior which is believed to be a more accurate signal for lies:

  • After you ask a person a question, pay attention to their behavior within the first five seconds. After that, and their mind is most likely thinking of something else other than your question. Any behavior that occurs in that time is most likely associated with your question.
  • Watch out for groups of deceptive behavior—not just one. People may fidget because they’re nervous. But if they fidget, over-explain and begin cleaning up at the same time, you might be on to the lie.
  • Ignore the truth. Liars are good at lying because they’ve figured out how to do it. And the best way to lie is to bury it in the truth. So watch out for the truth and then ignore it. The best liars will reveal a lot of truth in an effort to build up their credibility or conceal the real lie.

Finally, don’t lie. Especially as a marketer. In all of the research we’ve conducted on the emotions of consumers, betrayal is the hardest from which organizations might recover. So stay true and honest in your interactions with your consumers. But feel free to fill your co-worker’s office with silver balloons. At least today.

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