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On the Job column: Can you spot a liar at work?

9:11 PM, Jun. 16, 2013  |  Comments
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You might think you can detect a fibber by reading body language.

Obviously, the weird guy who never makes eye contact or the woman who nervously chews her lower lip are showing signs they are lying, right?

But what about your best work buddy who hangs out with you on weekends and threw you a surprise birthday party? This is someone you can trust.

Well, to be honest, that's a lie. The truth is that we're all liars at work, including you, Carol Kinsey Goman says.

The lying appears to start with a job interview and never stops, she says.

University of Massachusetts research finds that 81 percent of job candidates lie during interviews, and extroverts are the most likely to stretch the truth. On average, participants in the study told 2.19 lies in a 15-minute interview.

The lying doesn't even end at the exit interview, Goman says.

"People lie their heads off in exit interviews," she says. "They say it would be a career killer if they told the truth, and they don't want to burn their bridges."

So what does all this lying mean for the workplace?

At its most benign, a co-worker can lie to tell you that your butt doesn't look big in those pants.

But the problem can become much more destructive if a colleague lies to cover a serious error - or puts the blame on you. Lies can destroy careers and seriously damage companies, which is why Goman believes it's important to become more aware of liars.

"I don't want us to become suspicious of everyone, but I do think we need to understand the lies that are going on and think about what our response will be," she says.

In a new book, "The Truth About Lies in the Workplace: How to Spot Liars and What to Do About Them," Goman outlines ways to detect spot liars:

? Look for "tells." Just as a poker player spots nonverbal cues that give away another player's increased stress, you can look for body language that is out of sync with what a person is saying.

Body language that might indicate deception includes touching an eyebrow or squeezing the bridge of the nose while closing the eyes. Or, a liar may show nervousness through increased foot movement.

? Listen to the choice of words. Verbal cues can indicate lying, such as offering unnecessary elaboration to a story, changing a subject or offering qualifiers such as "to the best of my knowledge."

Once you think someone is lying, what should you do?

The answer may depend on the circumstances and the lie being told, Goman says.

You've got to consider who is lying. You might react differently if this person has power over you, such as your boss.

Also consider your goal in confronting the liar: Do you want an apology, a change in behavior or punishment for the person?

You have to figure out the consequences of confrontation, which can range from nothing happening to the liar facing legal action or job loss.

Even with our radar on alert for liars, Goman says, they're not always easy to spot at work because we have an "invested interest" bias.

We want to believe our co-workers or boss, "and our biases so blind us, we often suspect the wrong people," she says. Our biggest weakness: We often never suspect "people who look like us."

Liars' most successful tactic is using trust to manipulate, Goman says.

So, liars may say that their information is going only to a trusted few or may pitch in to help on a task when they're really the ones hurting us behind the scenes, she says.

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

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