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How to Detect Deception From a Former CIA Officer

5 Mins read

As a former CIA Officer, one of the most useful skills I still use to this day is the ability to detect deception. You can use this skill on your employees, your co-workers and your family. Best of all, anyone can do this. It doesn’t require you to be a “CIA ninja” with years of experience.

In fact, right now, I’m going to share with you 7 ways you can tell if someone is trying to deceive you and you can start putting these methods to use immediately.

The first way to detect deception is The 3 Second Rule. Put simply, human beings are not born to lie. If you ask someone a question and they are telling the truth, they can quickly answer you. This is because their brain doesn’t have to pause and start coming up with a lie. So, if you ask someone, “Did you steal my wallet?” and they start hemming and hawing or they ask you to repeat the question, you know something is wrong. Here’s a real-life example for you. When I am interviewing people for my company I will ask them, “tell me the last time you stole something?”

Most people answer honestly and say they stole candy from the supermarket when they were in 6th grade, or they stole money from their parents’ wallet in high school. However, one time, I asked this question to a woman, and she started stuttering and was clearly trying to buy time. She eventually admitted that she stole a significant amount of office supplies from her previous employer. I did not hire this woman. But the bottom line is, pay attention to the first 3 seconds of a person’s response and this will help you know if they are being honest or not.

Next, is Changing The Subject. For instance, if I ask you if you know why $10,000 is missing from the company bank account, it’s a yes or no answer, right? However, if I ask this to someone and they start telling me how they volunteer at the soup kitchen every Saturday and help the homeless every Wednesday night, what does that have to do with my question? Nothing. But they are trying to throw me off their scent by telling me good things they have done, even though they’re probably a thief.

The third tip you want to be aware of is if someone refers to their religious orientation. This is very similar to the “changing the subject” one I just mentioned. If I ask someone if they know where the missing money is and they say, “I’m Catholic, I can’t believe you would accuse me of that.” Or if they mention any religion at all, that has nothing to do with the question I asked. Honest people will give you a “yes or no” answer and won’t try to divert your attention.

Fourth, if you are worried that someone might be being dishonest, put them in a chair with wheels. You will first want to ask them innocent questions such as about the weather or about how their family is doing or upcoming vacations. Then out of the blue, you hit them with the question you really want to know about the missing money or whatever it might be.

When you hit them with the uncomfortable question, do they start moving from side to side in the chair? Keep in mind, it’s not going to be a huge movement where they are doing a 360-degree turn or anything like that. It will be a slight movement from side to side, but you will definitely notice some discomfort.

Number five also has to do with the feet. You want to pay attention to the direction that a person’s feet are pointing when they talk to you. Are their feet pointing at you as most people do in a normal conversation? Or are the feet pointed to the side as if they are trying to get away from you? For this one, you definitely have to ask further questions. Perhaps they just have to go to the bathroom. Or maybe they did steal the money and they want to escape from your questions.

Number 6 is one of my favorites and it’s called The Freeze. When people lie, they don’t want to stand out and they don’t want to attract attention to themselves because they know they are guilty. Case in point: Let’s say I was teaching a seminar on lie detection, which is one of the things I do. And let’s say I went to the bathroom and came back and my wallet that was sitting on the front table was missing. I would obviously start asking if anyone saw somebody come up and take my wallet.

Most people would be exhibiting normal honest behavior and would be saying they didn’t see anyone take it or would offer to help me look for it and would be looking around the room already. But I would be looking for the one person who was almost frozen in their seat. The one person who was not exhibiting normal behavior and who didn’t want to stand out.

Here’s a true story of The Freeze in action. I was on an airplane once. And the politest way I can say this is that someone passed some gas and it smelled really, really bad. So bad, in fact, that I started looking around for a dead body and I noticed almost everyone around me was doing the same thing looking for that awful smell. However, to my left across the aisle was a guy just sitting perfectly still, barely moving, not looking around like the rest of us. My guess is, he was the culprit.

The final tip I want to share with you is called The Head Nod. In short, never believe the words coming out of a person’s mouth, always believe the direction that their head nods. For instance, there was a politician who had a very bad marriage. She was being interviewed on TV and the reporter asked her about the state of her marriage. She said it was going wonderful, but as she answered, her head was clearly moving to the left and right saying, “nope.”

In another case, another politician was being asked about an affair. He stated he did not have an affair, but you could easily see his head moving up and down telling the truth of “yes”, he did have an affair.

One important thing to note about these lie detection techniques is that you’re looking for clusters. Just because someone does one of these, it doesn’t mean they’re 100% guilty. But if they start doing several of these, you certainly want to probe further since that person likely is being dishonest with you.

And here’s a bonus tip for you. I’ve got 7 kids and as every parent knows, little kids lie about everything. It isn’t until about age 8-10 (every child matures differently) that they fully understand the consequences of lying and they exhibit the signs above.

Jason Hanson is a former CIA officer and a  New York Times bestselling author of “Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life,” and currently operates Spy Escape & Evasion, which provides lifesaving strategies and techniques to civilians and is run by Jason and other former CIA and special operations personnel.

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