Detecting deception

Body language, statement analysis can reveal much about a candidate
By Zaia Lazar
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/24/2013

Everyone wants to tell you everything.” That’s what Avinoam Sapir, president of the Laboratory for Scientific Interrogation in Phoenix, once said.

But if that’s true, why do so many interviewers fail to obtain all the necessary information they require?

Among all the forms of communication, the content — the actual words spoken — make up a small percentage compared to non-verbal communication (such as gestures, body language and facial features) and paralanguage (such as the tone, rate of speech, pauses and emphasis).

Interviewers have a lot to gain by paying attention to a candidate’s non-verbal communication and paralanguage, as well as properly analyzing the verbal speech. By using forensic truth verification techniques to assess these principles, they can obtain useful information — and detect deception during the interview process.

The setting

The interview room, usually an office, should ideally have an area where there are two comfortable chairs across from each other — with nothing between you and the interviewee. That space should remain open so you can better assess the interviewee from head to toe.

Before delving into the candidate’s file and job positions, take time to engage in the lost art of small talk or rapport-building. This relaxes the candidate — and the more relaxed he is, the freer the flow of information — and, more importantly, it provides a glimpse of what he is like non-verbally when he is not stressed, as family and friends might see him.

Body language

Asking the interviewee open-ended questions allows you to observe her non-verbals through her body language, as well as listening to her response.

For example, if during the small talk phase the interviewee nods her head when she is saying something positive, you should expect the same behaviour in her non-verbal language during the interview proper.

However, if during the interview proper, the interviewee says something positive but is shaking her head from side to side in a “no” response, this should alert the interviewer that, in this particular area, the subject is less than truthful and you should delve further into this topic to uncover what exactly is meant.

Again, if during the rapport phase the interviewee’s body language is open and he leans in towards the interviewer, discussing his last position, this is a sign all is well.

But if the candidate’s last employer is discussed and he maintains a positive tone while crossing his arms and sitting back in his chair, this should alert you that his true feelings towards his past employer are not as rosy as he would have you believe.

Without baselining the candidate prior to the interview, you would not be able to attribute any meaning to these gestures and possibly miss out on vital information. Incidentally, the interviewee will not be aware he is communicating non-verbally as these actions and gestures are controlled by the subconscious mind.

Eye contact

When discussing important issues, the normal eye contact ratio tends to be towards the higher end, and this stands to reason: You want the other party to know the subject being discussed is important so you focus on the person to ensure she understands this.

So be aware of someone who wants to engage in a staring contest or simply stares, unblinkingly, at you. This type of activity is very hostile and the person may be attempting to aggressively take control of the interview.

Practitioners of neuro-linguistic programming will tell you that when a person looks up and to the left, she is accessing the right side of her brain, which is the creative side, whereas if she looks up and to the right, she is accessing the left side of her brain, which is the logical side (reverse for a left-handed person).

A general rule of thumb that is easier to remember is this: If you have asked a question and you see the eyes moving in any direction, there are cognitive processes taking place. So a good question to ask yourself is “Did my last question warrant this cognitive process?”

For example, if an interviewee is 50 and asked to talk about her first job, you would expect her eyes to move around as she searches her memory for the requisite information.

But if you ask: “Did you harass employee X?” and the employee pauses and moves his eyes around before responding “No” while looking down or away from you, clearly something is amiss with his response and further questioning is warranted.

Statement analysis

Another useful tool is statement analysis. This is the process of critical listening or critical reading to identify sensitive, deceptive or missing information.

It uses the subject’s own words to determine whether she is telling the truth, she has edited or omitted information or a topic is particularly sensitive for her. Once this information is uncovered, the interviewer can tailor his followup questions to focus on the areas where the subject has left gaps.

Interviewers should pay close attention to the following:

Pronouns: Which pronouns are being used by the interviewee and why? Does she suddenly drop pronouns altogether and, if so, when in the statement does this occur? This will, in all likelihood, be the time of deception.

Tenses: Statements are a retelling of past events and, consequently, should be written in first-person, past tense. Does the subject switch tenses and, if so, when in the statement and to which tense?

Structure: A truthful statement is broken down in the following manner — 20 per cent introduction, 50 per cent main body and 30 per cent epilogue, according to the Laboratory for Scientific Interrogation. If the above ratio is not met, then the probability of the statement being deceptive is 85 per cent.

Passive language: This is when an action is described without the subject telling the interviewee who did the action.

Changes in language: A change in language reflects a change in reality for an interviewee.

The change may indicate deception on his part, but may also indicate a sensitivity he has to that particular subject.

Interviewing is an integral part of daily life, whether in a professional or social setting.

While the above is not an exhaustive list of techniques to use, it is a good base from which an HR professional can build successive techniques to be a truly effective interviewer.

Zaia Lazar is a certified forensic polygraph examiner, vice-president and senior consultant at Ask A Security, a consulting arm of SECURaGLOBE Solutions in London, Ont. He can be reached at or, for more information, visit

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