The "Tells" of Deceit


The "Tells" of Deceit


In What Every BODY Is Saying, Joe Navarro explains that deceit cannot be directly discerned but can be inferred from the observation of  discomfort when a person attempts to run away from questions.





 Most people leak the discomfort of deceit...  


Most people leak the discomfort of deceit, with few exceptions. Our mammalian limbic brain, which handles the territory between reflex and more complex thought tends to reveal responses to threat in a progression from "freeze" (like a deer in the headlights), to "flight," to the last resort of "fight."  


We probably have all been exposed to the notion of the "fight or flight response." But Navarro points out that this label gets the sequence of events in reverse, and misses the most important "tell," which is the "freeze." Almost all of the discomfort of a person being questioned will be in the "freeze" and "flight" progression.


The lack of conscience in the neuro-psychology of sociopaths may disconnect the response of discomfort.  


And, as George Costanza said on Seinfeld, "It's not a lie-- if you believe it."


Enhancing your ability to detect deceit will require you to sharpen your powers of observation.  Just as in polygraph testing, it is important to establish a base line of cultural and individual norms for the person you are questioning. The key to the observation process is that you must be able to notice CHANGES from that person's established norms.


You can find a number of clips of Joe Navarro on You Tube.  

Here's a link to one of them... 


Joe Navaro: Art of Influence
Joe Navaro: Art of Influence


Freeze, self-pacify, avoid, block, deflect, evade, exit...  


   So where do you look for discomfort?


Look for the "freeze," followed by a combination of "self-comforting" responses, a desire to "block" further attack and "run."  Think of a progression of body movements that communicate- freeze, self-pacify, avoid, block, deflect, evade, exit...




   Touching, hugging, massaging...


Some people tend to feel vulnerability and tension in the neck, so look for changes in the nature and frequency of neck touches. Women tend to touch or stroke the suprasternal notch defined by the neck dimple between Adam's apple and breastbone. Men like to cup the neck stimulating the vagus nerves or carotid sinus which can slow down the heart rate.


Some people with start massaging their forehead, ear lobe, neck or face, or begin touching the cheek or lips. In doing so, some will cup an elbow with one hand while the other does the stroking. Some people will massage inside the mouth, using the tongue against the cheeks and lips or puffing up the cheeks with air.


Some people get warm or feel constricted and adjust their clothing for ventilation, such as opening a top button or loosening a tie.


Others may get a little cold and self hug for warmth, or find their hands clammy, and dry their hands on their thighs.


Some people may fidget with objects, or try to hide their hands from view.


Major "tells" may include the person turning the body slightly sideways, checking the clock or pointing feet in the direction of the door. The feet may then try to grab each other or the chair rungs in a move that suggests trying to quash the desire to leave.


When people are comfortable, they tend to point their toes and fingers upward, but when they are uncomfortable their feet start to take a runner's starting pose and their hands may seem to make a slight wringing gesture.


Look for shrugging of the shoulders and "turtle" like movements that seem to imply that the person would like to retract his/her head into the shoulders.


Some men will "alpha" puff and posture, like Fonz doing genital framing with his thumbs.


When people are comfortable with the questioner, they will "mirror" the physical movements or cross legs to tilt the body in the direction of the questioner. With discomfort, the mirror image stops, and the crossed knee tries to create a "barrier wall" and the tilt goes away from the questioner.


Navarro goes into detail about flight responses resulting in tightening of the facial muscles, and various eye responses including pupil constriction, squinting, changes in type of eye contact and/or blink frequency, unfocused wandering and/or hyper-vigilance.


All in all, Navarro's book is a fun and fascinating read, and may help you during various aspects of client interviewing, witness depositions and juror voir dire.  


It might even help you be a better poker player.