And, after all, what is a lie? Tis but the truth in a masquerade.
– Lord Byron
Private investigators fulfill a number of roles. One of them is to conduct interviews to gather information and facts relevant to the case. Truth telling is essential to this process. Unfortunately, not everyone they interview will tell the truth. There are interviewees who will attempt to deceive the investigator or suppress the truth for a variety of reasons by telling lies.
As professional investigators, we sometimes wish everyone was like the fictional children’s character Pinocchio who was carved by a woodcarver named Geppetto. Pinocchio is a wooden puppet who dreams of becoming a real boy. He has a major problem though. His nose grows when he lies. The bigger the lie, the greater the growth spurt. It’s a curse for the poor boy.
Detecting lies with a Pinocchio type nose would make our jobs so much easier. Someone lies, and wham, out comes the nose. Interviewing would be a relatively simple process. We wouldn’t have to read body language, look for verbal cues or inconsistencies in the story or any of those things we’ve been trained to look for.
The challenge facing the investigator is to determine what is a lie and what is not. In order to do this, an investigator must understand what a lie is.
Dictionary.com defines a lie as “a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood.” In addition, it is “something intended or serving to convey a false impression.”
There are several types of lies:
I’ve heard white lies described as little lies. They are not intended to hurt the recipient of the lie and stretch the truth. Sometimes they are used to avoid difficult or sensitive topics or issues. Other times, they are used to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or to be charming. Examples of white lies are:
Question: Is my butt big? (This is a question guys get a lot!)
Answer: No. It’s perfect. (Even though you don’t think it is!)
Question: Does this dress look good on me?
Answer: I think it looks great on you. (You think it does a disservice to her.)
I can’t join you tonight because I’m not feeling well. (When, in fact, you are in perfectly good health. You just don’t want to go out this particular evening.)
That’s a great looking haircut. (Even if you think it is the ugliest thing you have ever seen!)
Storytelling by Omission
I first heard of this technique while attending university. My history professor was debunking an historical theory and claimed it was “history telling by omission”. This technique involves telling a story but leaving significant and critical facts out that may shed a completely different outlook of the situation. It’s a form of lying. An example would be:
I’ve worked really hard to lose 50 pounds. (Your failing to mention that you had gastric bypass surgery is a significant omission.)
This technique involves enhancing a truth by adding lies. You often hear exaggerations in fishing stories. An example would be:
The fish that got away had to be 50 pounds. It was a monster! (It could have been five pounds. How are we to know without weighing it? If you are from Missouri, you need the person to show you the fish before you can believe the claim.)
This is the art of creating a false story. And, the fabricator knows it is untrue. An example would be:
I was a chef in the White House. (We know this to be completely false because the person couldn’t boil a pot of water if their life depended on it. Their cooking was so bad even the rats refused to touch it!)
This is an outright, blatant lie told to your face. It’s so obvious that the recipient of the lie even knows it’s a lie. Here is an example:
I didn’t eat the last slice of chocolate cake. (Even though their face and hands are covered in chocolate icing.)
Stay tuned for my next blog where I explore why people lie. These motivations will help you when conducting investigative interviews.