How to Lie Persuasively

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If there's one thing that we here at eHow know about, it's spotting liars. Two of our writers worked for the CIA from 1994 to 1997, and a third won a National Book Award for Nonfiction for her 1998 book "The Art of Deception: How To Spot A Liar." A fourth writer, a part-time professor in nonverbal communication at Stanford University, recently received an Emeritus Award for outstanding undergraduate instruction.

By the way, everything in the above paragraph is a lie. Now, you may have caught us early on, because you know that our cleverly written articles often start off with a bit of humor or irony. But the above paragraph serves more than an entertainment function; it is instructive because it utilizes some techniques that are essential to the art of persuasive lying. Learn these techniques, and you will be able to deceive with the best of them.

Before we divulge any secrets, however, we must play Yoda to your young Jedi: Please use the knowledge we impart to you for the purposes of good and not evil. Our techniques are not meant to be used when you are on the witness stand, nor should they be used to steal from or hurt others. Rather, our methods should be applied defensively: For example, you know that someone is lying to you (e.g., a mechanic says he's charging you a fair price), and lying back to him is the only way to set the record straight. That said: Read on, and learn to lie like the dirty dog you are.

Have as Little Previous Contact With the Target as Possible

Avoid lying to people who know your "baseline behavior."

Many years of research have proven one thing: It's incredibly difficult to know if someone is lying unless you have prior exposure to his baseline behavior. What is a baseline? It's the back of the box on a tennis court. What is baseline behavior? It is how you act when you're not lying. You know: the way you normally act--the way you talk and behave when you're having a casual conversation in which no attempt at deception is taking place.

The greater the number of interactions that the target of the lie (we'll use a "he" in this example) has had with you, the more familiar he will be with your baseline behavior. Because he knows how you usually act, he'll press you on the veracity of your statements and be more likely ultimately to figure out that you lied. This is why the old maxim "A liar never looks you straight in the eye" is bull. If the person doesn't usually look people in the eye as part of his normal non-lying behavior, he very may well look you in the eye when he IS lying. (This would be a change from his baseline behavior.) Lots of other little clues that all of the fogies down at Shady Pines have provided (e.g., liars talk fast, their eyes dart around, or they clear their throats a lot) are also pretty much useless for this reason; if the old folks really knew how to spot a liar, they wouldn't get ripped off in those crazy phone scams all the time. It doesn't matter what someone does when she lies; it only matters if such behavior is different from how she normally acts.

It's easier to lie to people you don't care about.

There is another important justification for having as little contact with the target as possible: It is easier to lie to people about whom you don't give a damn. To understand why, consider this: Many studies have shown that it's relatively easy to lie to someone over the phone, because the sense of personal connection is very small. You can't see them; they can't see you. As a result, you are less likely to feel guilty and, therefore, give visual clues that you may be deviating from your baseline behavior. If you were closer to the person physically, you would have a greater personal connection. Consequently, you would be more likely to "leak" (reveal in some way that you are engaging in deceptive behavior).

The same reasoning applies to being close to a person psychologically. Think about it. If you try to lie to your girlfriend or boyfriend, there are numerous psychological pressures (you'll think about what happens if you get caught, or feel guilty about lying to someone you care about), and it will be more difficult to focus on mimicking your baseline behavior. Trust us: You'll probably leak all over the place (in all senses of the word). This phenomenon is often called "liar's remorse," and it's usually what people are talking about when they say a liar "wanted to get caught."

So how does knowing this aid your ability to lie well? The answer is this: If you're going to lie, try to lie to someone who doesn't know you very well. They will be less familiar with your baseline behavior, and you will be less likely to care about them. In the event that you need to lie to a close friend, family member or other loved one, try this trick: Lie to someone who doesn't know you as well, and have him pass the message along. If that's not possible, you must truly master everything we tell you from here on.

Practice

Actors are better at lying convincingly than non-actors. This is because actors have more experience improvising. For the same reason, practicing your lie will make it more effective. If you have already practiced your story, when it comes time to lie, you don't have to worry about what you're going to say. Instead, you can dedicate more brainpower to maintaining your baseline behavior, instead of to thinking up an excuse. Just think of the proverbial used-car salesman. He uses the same routine on every schmuck (e.g., he's losing money on the deal; he has to talk to his boss; or he might get fired for giving a car away so cheap). He's practiced so much that he could tell his story in his sleep.

Practice also allows us to distance ourselves psychologically from our lies. We let our brain go on autopilot, and we actually forget that we're telling a lie. Purposely lying is very tough on the brain. Anything that makes the brain's job less stressful causes less mental anguish, and practice sure gives the brain less to worry about.

Lastly, practice gives one confidence, and confidence is a good indicator of if someone is telling the truth. If a person suddenly seems less confident in what he is saying (possibly because he is trying to skirt around the truth), you get suspicious.

Use Details

In Paul Ekman's book "Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage," Ekman provides several studies supporting the claim that, the more detail a story has, the more likely it is that someone is going to believe it. Why? Because details are not easy to make up on the spur of the moment while maintaining your baseline behavior. Usually, if you have to worry about making up details, you'll forget to maintain your baseline behavior, and you'll start to leak (stumble, fidget, smile and so on). So we're all usually suspicious of stories that are light on details. And because we're all used to hearing lies without details, it's one of the prime clues we use to figure out if someone's telling the truth or not. So what's the answer? Say it with us: Use details!

We understand the counterargument: If you don't give details, you're committing yourself to less concrete information, and you won't get caught in your lie. Ah, but imagine the following scenario: You ask your boyfriend where he's been for the past 4 hours. Which answer do you believe?

The instinctive answer is to believe choice B. It's less evasive. So if you want to be a good liar, use details to make your story credible--especially throwaway details that aren't necessarily relevant. Think of the way you tell a normal story. You weave in little details that don't necessarily relate, but are interesting. In the same vein, a good lie will use details, some necessary and some not, to make the story appear natural and complete.

Of course, to avoid getting caught in your detailed lie, you must be mindful of four things. First, your details must be rehearsed and memorized ahead of time (see Step 2). Second, you must keep your details in your active memory for a reasonable period after the lie. (Thus, telling your girlfriend the next day, "I cannot wait to see 'Austin Powers 3.' I heard that it was hilarious!" = very bad.) Third, include many unverifiable details ("I was pissed because the popcorn at the theater was stale"). Finally, insofar as the details you provided are falsifiable, you must make sure the people who could expose you (i.e., Bill and Bob) are aware of the lie and will back you up. Hey, we never said this lying thing was effortless.

Believe Your Lie

A renowned American philosopher named George Costanza once opined, "It's not really a lie if you believe it." Georgie Boy had no idea how right he was. The human brain is an absolutely amazing organ, capable of incredible amounts of rationalization. If you can somehow convince yourself that you are telling the truth, then as far as your psyche is concerned, you're not a liar. As a result, there will be no deviation from your baseline behavior, no leaking, no liar's remorse and no little clues. Because you think you are telling the truth, you will appear as if you are telling the truth.

"Huh?" you say. We have two responses: (1) Stop saying "huh?" while we're talking; and (2) an example will make all things clear.

Let's say that a prospective employer asks you if you have ever smoked marijuana, and for the sake of argument, you smoked pot yesterday. How can you lie persuasively?

What if you told yourself this: "The purpose of pot is to get high. You can only get high if you inhale. So someone only really ‘smokes' pot when he inhales. I did not inhale. Therefore, I am comfortable saying that I did not ‘smoke' pot." When that potential employer asks if you have ever "smoked" marijuana, you can with complete ease answer, "No," because you truly believe that you did not. You're free (and still eligible to be President of our great country)!

Let's examine another example from the master liar himself: Bill Clinton's statement that he "did not have sexual relations with that woman." According to his testimony, "sexual relations" require a pleasuring by both parties, and since Mon did all the pleasuring, he was comfortable in claiming that he did not have sexual relations with her. Even if you are a Republican and believe that Slick Willy's explanation is a lie, you get the point: If you can somehow convince yourself that you're telling the truth, all of the psychological and physiological indicia of lying disappear, and you are home free.

To recap: Remember what you've learned.

  1. Have as little contact with the target as possible. If it's a random person on the phone taking a survey, you would have no problem lying. If the person was at your doorstep, it would be a little tougher to lie, but you'd probably be able to do it (unless it was a Girl Scout). If it were your brother at the door, everything would change. You care what your brother thinks; your brother knows your baseline behavior well, and it would be tough for you to tell your story with a straight face without feeling a little bit bad. If a policeman were at your door, you also might have trouble lying. True, he doesn't know your baseline behavior, but you sure do care what he thinks--because there would be tremendous pressure on your psyche to play it cool, it would be difficult to focus on maintaining your baseline behavior.

  2. Practice. When Officer Lockemup is standing in front of you, analyzing you for nervous behavior, your well-practiced story of how you don't smoke marijuana because it's against your religion is safely stored in your brain. Now when it's time to talk, you'll feel confident, comfortable and less prone to wild sweating.

  3. Use details. All 300 lbs. of Lockemup is standing in front of you, asking if you smoke marijuana. Your answer is not, "No. It's against my religion." Your answer is "No. I'm a member of the Twelfth-Day Adventists, and it is strictly forbidden by our God to ingest any plant-based smoke. Would you like to attend a prayer meeting tomorrow at 4 a.m.?" OK, this is a little ridiculous, but you get the idea.

And there you have it! You now know all that is necessary to be a great liar. Go out there and become the best darn lawyer you can.

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