X-ray vision. The ability to fly. Super-human strength. Identifying a liar.
Claim any of the first three and people will think you’re crazy. Claim the last one, and you’re a body-language expert.
Pamela Myer in her recent article How To Spot a Lie, claims that anyone can spot a liar, and that, “Detecting lies, or ‘lie-spotting,’ is an essential skill for everyone to acquire, both for personal and professional reasons.”
My question is, “why?” Why is it such an essential skill to be able to spot a liar? What, exactly, are we so afraid of?
Look, I get it. No one wants to be taken advantage of. And yet people lie for a variety of reasons, many of which don’t have a single thing to do with us. Not to mention that there is no guarantee that you can even spot a liar. Research has been pretty clear that there are no tell-tale signs of lying, and even Myer admits that most of the nonverbals associated with lying–shifty eyes, stuttering, blushing–have been discredited as such.
But my biggest problem with “lie-spotting” is that it takes us away from what communication is really supposed to be about: connection. You can follow Myer’s advice and carefully observe nonverbal behavior, but what if you determine –after your thorough examination–that the person is, in fact, telling the truth? You’ll have missed out on authentic connection with the person sitting right in front of you.
We’re all hard-wired from birth to understand and interpret nonverbal cues. The problem is, we often ignore our instincts out of politeness or because we don’t want to believe that someone would lie to us. If you’re really interested in increasing your awareness to dangerous situations I highly recommend Gavin de Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear. But nonverbal communication, at least the way I use and train in it, is something we fine tune in an effort to communicate more authentically and effectively leading to greater connection, not less.
In other words, I support a balance between trusting our instincts and giving people the benefit of the doubt. What gets under my skin is the underlying message that everyone is out to trick you. This just simply isn’t true. Life is risky. We can’t protect ourselves from everything. But we can get lost in fear, which increases the separation between us and our fellow human beings.
Which, come to think of it, might just be the biggest danger of all.