There are common lies that many people tell, whether it’s about receiving an email or how much they love your new haircut (they actually hate it).
Such fibs are usually designed to prevent hurt feelings or to dodge a disagreement, and there are often not a lot of repercussions beyond annoyance.
But when your boss tells you a lie, it’s a whole different ball game. When the boss lies, it can affect not only your current job, but your entire career.
Just as you gain skills in other parts of your job, it’s time to learn how to spot when the boss is lying to you.
Without it, you’re at the mercy of a manager who may have his own agenda and may not be committed to your success.
Daniel Ribacoff, author of “I Spy: How to Be Your Own Private Investigator,” says that anyone can use simple techniques to detect if a boss is lying.
His first suggestion: Look for a lack of “commitment pronouns.”
For example, let’s say you send the boss an email asking about the status of a possible promotion.
If the boss says, “I” will look into it by tomorrow, then that shows a commitment to you because he or she is committing to the request personally and providing a time deadline.
“If he says something like, ‘Oh, we’ll look into it and advise you,’ then that shows a lack of commitment on his part. He’s also being vague about what’s going to happen,” Ribacoff says. “When there’s a lack of commitment, it’s a sign of deception.”
Some other clues of when the boss in lying in an email or text can include:
- Being evasive. The boss answers your question with a question or assigns blame to someone else. “Can you believe that guy in human resources? He is so unorganized he probably lost the paperwork.” Also, when the boss hedges or changes the subject, it might mean that he or she is keeping something from you.
- Conveying negative language. The boss uses emotional words such as “hate,” “sad,” “bad,” “empty” or “useless.”
- Letting trivial details take precedence. “I went to corporate offices and decided to stop for coffee on the way. I usually don’t get caffeinated, but you know they had this special, so I got a small one. And a muffin. A blueberry one.”
- That’s the kind of detail you don’t need from your boss in an email or text, so maybe she’s avoiding a discussion about what happened at the corporate offices.
- Rushing through an answer. If the boss was supposed to attend an event, for example, but then rushes through a description or it with little or no detail or doesn’t even mention it, it might mean he’s lying about attending.
- Using noncommittal words. When the boss is saying “probably,” “must have” or “pretty sure,” it shows that he or she is providing an outlet for escape.
Ribacoff says that people don’t necessarily lie more in written messages than they do in person, but lying in an email or text “is less anxiety producing for them – and it sort of offers insulation and distance from the lie.”
If you really want to get a better handle on whether the boss is not being straight with you, then meet with him or her in person so you can detect more body language clues. “Don’t even let there be a table between you,” Ribacoff says. That’s because you want to observe the full body language closely.
In addition, new software from the University of Michigan that is 75% accurate in identifying who is being deceptive (compared with the human lie detection ability of 50%) found there are several “tells” when someone in being deceptive.
The research finds that those who are lying:
- Gesture more with both hands.
- Try to sound more certain.
- Scowl or grimace more with the whole face.
- Use “um” or other verbal fillers more often.
- Distance themselves by saying “he” or “she” instead of “I” or “we.”
“For me, the most surprising thing the software found is that those who are lying will look straight at you,” says Rada Mihalcea, professor of computer science and engineering, one of the project leaders.
Of course, that may be because they're trying to gauge whether you believe their lie.
Still, those like Ribacoff who specialize in spotting liars caution that you can’t judge your boss as a liar simply because he shuffles his feet or says “um.” Maybe your boss is a natural fidgeter.
The key is to look for behaviors that are out of the norm — whether that's frantic motion or an eerie calm — which may indicate that he or she is avoiding saying the truth.