Employers Group Blog Connection

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!

Posted by Nicole Vierzba on Mon, Jun 6, 2011

In HR, we are often the one’s sent to put out fires. We have to be able to effectively, efficiently and legally solve conflicts and make sure our employees have the skills, tools, and environment they need to do their job.

So what happens when you’re faced with a "he said, she said" scenario and you have that gut feeling that one of your employees is not being entirely truthful? Can you tell when someone is embellishing just enough to throw their co-worker under the bus?

Can you spot a liar?

HR Professionals have to be great B.S. detectors to sniff out the truth and make honest and informed decisions that could, potentially, have legal and financial backlash if you don’t read the situation carefully. If you’ve ever interviewed a candidate who didn’t quite stack up to their glowing resume, you know the kind of embellishment I’m talking about.

How do you know if your employees are lying to you? (yes, yes, I know - lying is a strong word, but you need to know if you’re getting hoodwinked.)

Here are some thoughts to keep top of mind as you sift for facts:

Get to know your employees.

If you work in a small company, this is easy to do. You probably interact with most everyone on a daily basis. You know their style, what drives them, even their mannerisms such as facial expressions and tone of voice. If you work in a larger organization and don’t have the opportunity of one-on-one interaction with everyone, solicit outside input from those that do interact with them on a regular basis – discover their normal behaviors, as well as any knowledge of the situation in question.

When you meet with your employees, make sure they are relaxed

Meet in their comfort-zone so they will let down any guard or mask they have over the truth.  Mimic their speech-patterns and their body movements, letting them know that you're "on the same page" with them.  This technique, known as "mirroring" has been shown to help people open their lines of communication in uncomfortable situations. 

The devil is in the details! 

There is a quote by Mark Twain, "Always tell the truth; then you don't havve to remember anything."  As you ask for more and more details, the person you're speaking with, if they are being untruthful, will probably struggle with consistency of details  They are more apt to trip themselves up if they are asked to recount things that never actually took place. 

Body Language & Facial Expressions: 

Fidgeting, touching ones’ face (particularly covering one’s mouth) are usually tell-tale signs of dishonesty. Most good liars think that if they purposefully make good eye contact with you while telling a story they won’t be caught. This over-compensating use of eye-contact, rather than what’s natural for the situation or their behavior, can be quite telling.

Change the Subject!



If someone is lying to you, they will tend to become more relaxed if you decide to suddenly change topics.  This temporary reprieve takes the pressure off of them to keep up a story.  If someone is being truthful, they will want to return to the original topic and not deviate from telling their side of the story.

Finally, give them an excuse to tell the truth: 

If, after not beign honest with you, they decide to recant on their previous statements, dont' show them surprise or a negative reaction.  You want your employees to be honest.  If they have done something wrong, allow them to make up for the error of their ways either through apologizing or settling the differences they may have had with someone else. 

When trying to sift out the facts, just remember there are always two sides to every story and you are not alone when trying to settle conflict at work.    Get the perspective of others or call on a trusted resource to make sure your B.S. meter is finely tuned. 

Want to learn how to be a better communicator at work?  Enroll in one of our highly intractive Communication Training Courses today!

Topics: workplace, human resources, leadership, management, employee relationship