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Interviewing -What’s Body Language Got To Do With It?

Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”

Humans are capable of communicating over four channels – voice quality, voice content, micro signals and body language.  Each of the four broadcasts cognitive and emotional information in varying strengths and forms. Because communication skills, talents and habits for each person vary, the overall contributing percentages of each can be different.  Of the four channels, body language provides the most output making up anywhere from 50 to 85 percent depending on the person or even which expert you may ask. The question is what’s all the body language about and what does it mean to the interviewer?

 

First of all body language can obviously contribute to a verbal message that is being broadcast.  Often we judge a person’s level of communication skills based not only on their verbal talents but also on the artistic flair of the person’s body language.  This subclass of nonverbal behavior includes what are called illustrators. These are motions, gestures, movements and in some cases facial expressions that support or supplement the verbal message.

 

Second, body language cues are also often directly connected with extreme emotional and sometimes cognitive stress changes a person may be experiencing.  It’s important to note these behaviors are not a part of the stress reactions but are the after shocks of developing or increasing stress.  Think of these cues as being similar to a tsunami.  The tsunami occurs because of dramatic unseen seismic events that occur under the ocean. Body language stress cues occur because of unseen seismic stress events occurring internal in your interview subject.

 

Finally, the interviewer may observe body language symptoms that have a higher correlation with deception.  There are two very prominent categories of these cues most frequently seen during deception – aversion and negation.  These cues are not part of the lie but occur because an emotional or cognitive lie has been told. In this case the person is attempting to deceive the observer by hiding a strong emotion they are experiencing or faking an emotion they do not genuinely feel.  These symptoms can also be associated with stress subject may experience when attempting to withhold information they do not want to expose or pronouncing to have knowledge they do not possess.  In either case your subject has a great deal at stake in sustaining the deception that can create varying degrees of stress.

 

It’s important for the interviewer to remember that not all changes in body language indicate deception but can be nothing more than a sign of changing emotion.  In addition, body language is the one channel that is often subject to misinterpretation.  One body language cue can have multiple meanings and are therefore subject to misinterpretation.  We should also note that diagnosing every single body language a person may generate in an interview is very labor intensive and concentrating all our efforts of nonverbal cues can result in the observer missing a significant verbal message.

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Can We Suppress All Our Stress Signs & Lie Cues?

Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”

I recently read an article from a law enforcement news service to which I subscribe about a new video training program being produced and distributed by a former highway drug interdiction officer.  The pitch for the video indicated that the viewer would be taught how to hide all their drugs in vehicles in such a way that they could not be found during a traffic stop.  In addition, the viewer will be taught how not to raise a traffic officer’s suspicions during any stop and the correct answers to all the questions the driver would be asked.  My area of expertise has nothing to do with the interdiction skills, training or experience needed to spot hidden drug compartments, etc. However, the assumption by the producers of this video that they can teach someone how to control their behaviors and not be noticed by an officer with at least average interdiction experience has some major flaws.

 

I can not imagine any drug courier does not think about being stopped every time he or she makes a run.  In their mind I know they have imagined the incident, attempted to rehearsed their “cool” behavior and walk away unnoticed.  They may even try to anticipate all the questions they may be asked or even knows what they may be asked by the officer by learning from the mistakes made by other drug operators during their ill-fated stops. The one thing none of us can do in advance is prepare or rehearse the intellectual or emotional stress we my experience when we face the reality for which we have diligently rehearsed.

 

We can not simply “beat” someone at spotting our deception by merely knowing what they are going to ask us in advance.  One example would be a polygraph exam.  The subject knows the questions the examiner is going to ask because the examiner has worked on the questions with the examinee’s assistance!  How well do these subjects perform on those exams?  Just the anticipation alone that “the question” is or may be asked is enough to trigger significant emotional and cognitive reactions.

 

Our video producers have also demonstrated by their statements an extreme ignorance of the human processes of deception.  We practice the deception of others by attempting to show knowledge about something we do not know or hide knowledge of information we do in fact possess.  We are faking an emotion we are not currently experiencing or hiding an emotion we don’t want read. The video producers have told us they can teach us how to control all the behaviors that no one has ever been able to do with 100% success in the past.  Certainly an officer may miss some of the stress signs and deception cues a subject may be generating but that doesn’t mean the cues aren’t there.

 

Finally, while all this well planned “successful” ruse is being perpetrated by the driver who is hiding the drugs and controlling all their stress reactions and lie cues there are some other issues that are also occupying their thoughts.  “Am I leaking any of the cues I supposed to hide?”  “Is my performance in answering “the questions” succeeding based on the reactions I see from the officer who stopped me?”  All I can say to the producers of this video is “thanks.”  You will so thoroughly screw up the people who are going to buy your video with some much misinformation you’re going to make it easier for observant officers to pick out their behaviors.  Now these people don’t have just one or two things to worry about during their stop, they now have about 10.  These drivers aren’t rocket scientists and definitely not astute enough actors to master such a skilled performance on the side of the road.