My son keeps telling me about a new show called “Lie to Me.” Evidently the main character has the ability to tell when someone is lying and, often times, why he/she is lying. Facial clues, tone of voice, body language are all indicators for him. He’s a scientist with years of study behind his abilities, but he has a few “naturals” on his team. These are people who can come to similar conclusions with accuracy, but have no formal training. [An ex-girlfriend of mine used to say that she had the same ability—she could tell when men were lying because their lips were moving. (Sigh.)]

Anyway, it got me thinking about our abilities in the sales process to identify liars, half-truth-tellers, concealers and the most dangerous buyers of all (I think): the delusionally hopeful, whose greatest sin is that they lie to themselves first and then repeat it to us.

I don’t have science behind me and I’m wary of the pop-psychology world of body language interpretation, (“If he crosses his arms that means he is defensive”). I do, however, tend to think that there are some indicators when the conversation is not completely truthful and those hints are worth watching for…

  • Overclaims. Promises are too big for the person’s position in the company or role in the project. I saw this recently with an I.T. manager at a client’s prospect who wanted to buy the solution badly, but was in no position to make the buy. He was making the claims that he could approve the deal because he was zealous and also afraid we’d move past him and leave him out of the discussions.
  • Wait-and-see. When someone is delaying the timeline in a buying process that he or she defined, it’s not a great indicator of honesty. I have found that in these circumstances the person is often checking pricing with the incumbent vendor or negotiating with my biggest competitor while keeping me on the hook.
  • Too-good-to-be-true. “Price is not a major factor in this decision.” “We’re not considering any other providers.” “We’re going to bypass the normal testing phases and put this into full production.” I’ve heard all of these and later in the process not one of them turned out to be true. Was the person lying? Let’s say no. But I think that they had convinced themselves of something that in the end they should have known was not going to be true.
  • If, then. As in, “…if you just lower your price 11%, then we will make the decision right away…”, only to find out that this was a gambit in a list of demands. This liar is seductive because they prey upon our sense of urgency, and cause us to act as their agent in negotiations within our own firm. The “if, then” liar proceeds to blame other forces within their firm for further delays and heretofore unmentioned requirements as a means to repeat the if then game to win even more concessions.

When I hear these types of red-flags, I push. I think that a mixture of self-confidence, raw curiosity and authenticity can get you closer to truth, regardless if the person will tell you the truth or not. The biggest push of the three is raw curiosity—ask the questions that are uncomfortable. It always surprises me how often we don’t ask the questions that we know we should because we are afraid of the answer…as if by not asking the question, the answer doesn’t exist.

What liars have you seen? How do they show up and what are your strategies for dealing with them?

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