It's stressful enough finding a place you like and that's affordable without having to wonder whether you can trust those involved. When you're about to plunk down a few hundred thousand -- or a few million -- for a house, the honesty stakes are probably the highest they will ever get.
So how do you get the upper hand? By drawing on the same lie detection techniques and scientific research which for years have been used exclusively by the law enforcement and intelligence communities. I wrote my new book, "Liespotting: Proven Techniques for Detection Deception," (St. Martin's Press), with the aim of bringing this valuable information to the general public.
Here are some insider tips:
1) Prevent any deception from the start. Research shows that people are much more reluctant to lie to coworkers than strangers, most likely because they know their reputation is at stake. So the same works for your real estate agent. Let him know his good name rests in your hands. If you have a wide circle of friends, for example, you might suggest that if that basement does flood after you buy the house -- you're going to make sure people know about it online and in person.
2) Get a baseline. If you think you're going to be spending time with your agent, get an idea of what he's like when he's relaxed and not under stress. Look at the way he stands, the way he fidgets, the speed of his speech, his natural laugh, his gestures. That way you can spot if he acts differently when you ask difficult questions.
3) Observe body language. Liars don't rehearse their gestures -- just their words. The cognitive load is huge on them when they're trying to appear sincere, so it's harder for them to control their bodies. That translates into significant giveaway behaviors -- like freezing the upper body, lowering the voice or slowing the breathing. Watch closely what happens when you ask about that just-materialized rival's offer.
4) Watch for "post-interview relief." An odd phrase, but one that's often used among police interrogators. At the end of an interview with a suspect, experienced detectives know there's often a recognizable moment of relief -- a shift in posture, or a visibly more relaxed facial expression. It may be fleeting, but it's significant, and it's something interrogators are trained to look for. You should look for it, too. Be strategic in your questions and look carefully at your broker when you stop asking about that pesky basement -- and turn the conversation to the schools in the area.
5) Verbal tells. Although liars think carefully about their words, there are ways they reveal themselves unknowingly. For example, they could give you an inappropriate amount of detail in their response, much more than necessary, as if to prove they're telling the truth.. Or they could use what's known as "bolstering language." Liars want to sound convincing and earnest, so they'll often add emphatic phrases to their speech to reinforce their credibility. If you hear things like "To tell you the truth," "To be honest" or "I swear to God," take note and be on guard.
6) Surprise! It's not necessarily in the eyes. We all know that someone looks away a lot and avoids eye contact if they're lying, right? Well, think again. Studies show that liars may use more eye contact if they're attempting to deceive. The average rate of eye contact has been estimated to be 60 percent in a normal conversation; a liar may overcompensate to emphasize the veracity of what she's saying by looking at you more often. If the eyes gazing back at you are a little too steady, listen even more carefully.
A note of caution: All these examples are based on scientific evidence. But before you call an agent's bluff and back out of a contract, remember not to base your judgment on just one or two examples, however compelling they may appear. Look for clusters of clues, a number of different physical and verbal tells which differ from someone's baseline behavior. Otherwise someone fidgeting a lot could just be nervous -- or even have indigestion that day!
Pamela Meyer is founder and CEO of Simpatico Networks, a leading private label social networking company that owns and operates online social networks. She holds an MBA from Harvard, an MA in Public Policy from Claremont Graduate School, and is a Certified Fraud Examiner. She has extensive training in advanced interviewing and interrogation techniques, facial micro-expression reading, body language interpretation, statement analysis, and behavior elicitation techniques. For the book "Liespotting," she worked with a team of researchers over several years and completed a comprehensive survey of all of the published research on deception detection. The most interesting highlights from the research survey are included in the book, while additional new findings are regularly featured on her blog, Liespotting.
Want to read more about Liespotting? Check out Asylum's test of Pamela Meyer's deception detection techniques.
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