Emotional Skills and Lie Detection for Negotiators and Lawyers

HR Lies: Spot Lies on Resumes

Money magazine reports 23% of applicants lie about their salary when they apply for a  job. Shocking enough, but more shocking that they offer advice on how applicants can fudge it!  Good news: I’ve got some real antidotes. They’ll help you dodge job lies – and many others – even from dates!

Let’s take their advice step by step.

Step one: Don’t answer the question in writing.  They suggest applicants skip steps about how much they made.

Antidote: Beware avoiding in every form. It’s easy to flag the applicant who leaves blank spots on a form.  But beware, too, when people want to “talk in person.”  Maybe they want rapport.  And maybe they’re right: research suggests email negotiations often lead to less success.  But maybe they’re trying to hide something.  Case in point: I doubted someone really did ten hours of work.  I asked them for an itemizing of how they spent their time.  They said, “I’d rather talk in person.”

People also use “in person” to manipulate.  A client recently had a guard at work bar their assistance dog.  The head honcho talked about “the appropriate process” and referred to HR.  And HR wanted . . . “to talk.”  I coached the client just to keep saying California law required access.  Finally, we sent the law – it turned out also to include a $1000 penalty!  Within forty minutes, the employer was ready to write the check!

Beware subtler evasion in conversation.  Track the person’s language.  Are you starting to hear filler phrases like “as it were” and “if you please” and “so to speak.”  Of course, some people do that all the time.  So compare how they usually talk with how they answer specific questions.  This change in verbal style doesn’t mean they’re lying, but it’s a flag to probe more later.

Antidote two: If they won’t go on the record, put them on the record.  Send a short email seeking to confirm some things.  “Thanks, John, for talking today about the job.  Before I check your references, I just wanted to confirm a few things that I’m not sure I got down properly.  First, the salary at Starbucks was __.”  You can do this badly, too.  You could start to sound like one of those lawyers who sends confirming letters after all their calls.  What a jerk – and probably with some very happy clients!

Tactic two: “Inflate your numbers fairly.”  Money suggests you answer questions about salary with “total compensation” that includes “stock options, 401k match, bonuses, and upcoming raises.”  They also suggest you say “My total compensation is in the range of . . . “  But you already know “in the range of” is one of those avoiding phrases.

Antidote three: Ask very specific questions.  Change your forms to say “total cash salary” and “other compensation.”  And ask them to spell out the other compensation.  Who knows: you might even learn important facts.  Maybe you learn about paying someone partly in commuter money that saves you payroll taxes!

Lies can cost you.  Not just money, but even your health and life.  A friend called recently to tell me that she found out her new boyfriend was HIV-positive.  She didn’t get how she missed it.  “I asked,” she said.  First I found out she was okay.  Yes, she’d taken the viral load test that detects HIV accurately without having to wait months after exposure.

She wasn’t lying.  She had asked.  On the phone.  That left her no chance for her to look for the microexpressions we know reveal many lies.  That also left her boyfriend with the comfort that could let him lie more easily.  But the real problem was her question: “What’s your STD history?”  He said, “Crabs.”  When he finally told her the truth, she asked about this.  “I wasn’t lying.  I don’t think I got infected from sex.”

A final note: Specific questions are great, but general ones can also help.  She finally got him to tell the truth when he talked about an impending trip he planned before they met.   She felt something weird during the conversation.  “On the way back,” she told me, “I said something that sounded strange. I asked, ‘Are you feeling complete about all this?’”  That’s when the boyfriend confessed.

You can use this same general tactic in business negotiations as well.  Don’t just ask for numbers on salaries.  Try to get any questionable information.  You might even try the common confess and ask strategy.  “You know,” I often say, “I think everyone has bad matches with work.  I know that I hated my first job because the person was very controlling and obsessive.  I imagine he probably thought I needed to be more detail-oriented.  What about you?”

Bottom line:  Should you ask general questions (“Anything to know about this house”) or specific (“any rumors about new construction around here”).  The answer: Yes.  Ask both.  Often!

Clark Freshman is a tenured professor of law at University of California, Hastings College of Law, specializing in negotiation and dispute resolution.  He  teaches lie detection, emotion, and negotiation worldwide to lawyers and organizations  such as GE Oil and Gas, the National Association of State Bar Counsel, Homeland Security, Clarium Capital, Vector Capital, Harvard Business School, and Columbia Business School.  Visit clarkfreshman.com for classes and more information.

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