Humans are masters of lying and self-deception. We want others to believe us good, fair, responsible and logical, and we yearn to see ourselves this way. Sometimes this is overt and conscious, other times it’s a matter of the subconscious directing our actions and words.
When our actions appear selfish, prejudiced or in opposition to cultural norms, we engage a host of strategies to justify our behavior with rational excuses. “I bought that gigantic SUV because I have I have kids.” “I bought myself these extra jeans because no one helps around the house and I deserve it.” “I buy Maxim for the articles.” People restructure situations, from actions to words, to view their behavior in a more positive light.
So what do we do about it?
- Listen for cadence and the amount of run-on language when people are answering specific questions. While there are simply people who talk (and talk and talk), people are trained to take turns in language. When a person talks more than he or she normally does, assuming you don’t intentionally give signals cuing them to speak, it is often a sign of avoidance and lying.
- Body language signs of lying give a person away easily primarily because lying is not a natural thing. We respond with hard-wired responses that are subconscious and therefore hard to fake. Or to hide. The simplest thing is to tell the truth and the body knows this. Avoiding eye contact, hand wringing and face touching are signs that consciously or subconsciously, the person isn’t telling the truth.
- Recognize that lying isn’t necessarily intentional or negative. Ethnographers do not assume that people are lying during an interview, but that their perceptions and ideals may not correspond to the realities of their daily life. People often “weed out” information that they believe is extraneous, may be embarrassing or that they simply forgot. And that is data.