Emotional Skills and Lie Detection for Negotiators and Lawyers

Jet Lag

Clark before Harvard Business School lie detection lecture: blue light to enhance emotions and battle jet lag

A key emotional skill for lawyers, mediators and other negotiators: managing jet lag. Research shows air travel increases negative mood for many of us. And negative mood is bad news for negotiation.

Some problems with negative mood from jet lag:

Even small negative emotions are associated with worse negotiation results. As I’ve written many times, research shows even small changes in emotion are associated with worse outcomes in negotiation. That could be from something as simple as an unpleasant scent in the negotiation room. And a whole host of studies over decades shows that negative emotions are associated with worse results at nearly every other activity – even very mild changes in negative emotion.

Negative emotion may also make it harder for us to tell when someone is lying. Remember, in the Ekman, we are both concerned with telling when someone is lying and with not disbelieving the truth. And yet a negative mood can make us too suspicious and too willing to accuse someone of lying – either in our own minds or to their face. Paul Ekman’s science of detecting emotions through microexpressions and other techniques does tell us when we see an emotion. It’s easy enough to increase your skill at detecting microexpressions through Paul Ekman’s Microexpression Training Tool.

But we still need to consider why that emotion or other clue to detecting deception indicates a lie versus something else. As Paul Ekman often says, there is no Pinocchio response. No “tell” always indicates someone is lying. Learning microexpressions through the microexpression training tool is the first step in detecting lies. But it’s not the last.

Let’s take a very high stakes example: someone applying to enter the United States on a visa. Homeland Security asked Paul Ekman for his help in understanding when people lie about entering the country, and we use these videos to train people how to tell when someone is lying in our continuing legal education classes and other workshops for clients around the world. In one video, a U.S. official at an American consulate in Canada asks a Jordanian about his trips to the United States. The Jordanian student takes some time to remember. It’s a classic change in verbal style. This is one of the advanced ways to detect deception: we notice subtle changes not just in microexpressions of emotion but in verbal style and other pathways.

Why did he take so long to answer? A generous interpretation: he’s tired when he’s interviewed. Another generous interpretation: maybe he travels a lot and can’t keep track of when he was in the United States. A less generous interpretation: he’s hiding something about his past. An even less generous interpretation: he is entering the United States with some hostile intent.

Back to jet lag: if we’re in a slightly less good mood, or even having some negative mood, we will get sucked into the negative interpretation. We may think we’ve detected deception when we’ve just witnessed some understandable slowing down from sleep deprivation.

My favorite tips on jet lag. Tip one: make sure you get light at the right time of the day. Flying east, it’s important to get bright light between roughly seven and nine in the morning. (Get it earlier if you want to be in the habit of waking earlier, and later if the reverse.). That’s not always easy. I often fly to Europe to teaching continuing legal education classes on microexpressions and detecting deception. That early, the flight attendants are still serving breakfast. So I use an artificial light source. I recommend the Apollo go lite. It’s smaller than most bright light simulators because it only uses blue light – that portion of the wave spectrum most associated with changes in our sleeping from its effect on melatonin and serotonin. After I described it to my colleagues Paul Ekman and Harvard Business School Professor Mike Wheeler, they also started using it. Flying west, use it between six and nine at night. Recommended time is 20 to 30 minutes, but I often go a bit longer.

Second favorite remedy for jet lag: use pycnogenol. Italian researchers found that taking this was associated with halving self-reports of jet lag. Here’s another question of interpretation: want the good spin or the bad spin? The good spin: brain scans show that pycnogenol was associated with a reduction in brain inflammation by 50% so it’s not just something people think is different. The bad spin: you’re brain still gets inflamed when you fly a lot! Recommended dose: 50 mg three times a day for two days before you fly and for four days after you fly.

I really believe in this. I’m speaking at Harvard in six days on lie detection and the negotiation within to negotiators and any lawyers looking for Continuing Legal Education credit. So, as I write, it’s been 30 minutes since I took my first dose of pycnogenol, and I’ve got my light positioned to the side.

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