Let Their Words Do the Talking

Verbal cues to detect deception.

Poor Man's Polygraph Part 1

The Poor Man's Polygraph allows you to test the veracity of others.

Poor Man's Polygraph - Part 1

The Well... Technique

Imagine you think your spouse is having an affair. Imagine your child comes home late and you suspect shenanigans. Imagine your clients or employees mislead you. If you're like most people, you ask yourself the question, "How do I know the person talking to me is telling the truth?" I ask myself that question every day when I speak with friends, colleagues, supervisors, and the clerk in the grocery store who tells me that spaghetti is in aisle 3. People rarely have the opportunity to conduct polygraph examinations on their friends, colleagues, or kids to find out if they are telling the truth or not.

The Poor Man's Polygraph consists of a series of techniques that increase the probability of detecting deception, The Poor Man's Polygraph provides deceptive indicators, not proof of deception. Detecting deception is difficult because truthful people sometimes emit verbal and nonverbal cues that indicate deception. Likewise, deceptive people sometimes emit verbal and nonverbal cues indicate truthfulness. Additionally, people are, in general, poor lie catchers. The Poor Man's Polygraph consists of the following techniques: Well..., Why should I believe you?, Parallel Lie, Forced Response, and Land of Is. The Poor Man's Polygraph will be presented in a five part series beginning with the Well... technique. The Poor Man's Polygraph can be found in its entirety in Advanced Interviewing Techniques: Proven Strategies for Law Enforcement, Military, and Security Personnel.

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Well...

When you ask someone a direct Yes or No question and they begin their answer with the word "Well," there is a high probability of deception. Beginning an answer to a direct Yes or No question with the word "Well" indicates that the person answering the question is about to give you an answer that they know you are not expecting. The following exchanges will clarify the Well... technique:

Dad: Did you finish your homework?
Daughter: Well...
Dad: Go to your room and finish your homework.
Daughter: How did you know I didn't do my homework?
Dad: I'm a dad. I know these things.

Dad need not wait for his daughter to finish her answer because he knew by her use of the word "Well" that she was about to give him an answer she knew he was not expecting. The daughter knew her dad was expecting a "Yes" answer to the question, "Did you do your homework?" She began her response with the word "Well," which meant she was about to give an answer other than "Yes."

In another example, I interviewed a person who I thought witnessed a murder. The person was in close proximity to the crime, but he denied seeing the shooting. After giving me some evasive answers, I decided to test his veracity by asking him a direct Yes or No question.

Me: Did you see what happened?
Witness: Well...from where I was it was hard to see much of anything. It was dark and it all happened so fast.

I asked the witness a direct Yes or No question to which he knew I expected a "Yes" answer. Since he began his response with the word "Well," I knew he was about to give me an answer other than yes. I let the witness finish his response so as not to alert him to the Well... technique. The Well... technique did not indicate deception, only the possibility deception. I used a combination of the other Poor Man's Polygraph techniques and subsequently learned that he was reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement because he feared retaliation from gang members.

The "Well..." technique only works with direct Yes or No questions. Beginning a response with the word "Well" in answer to an open-ended question such as, "Who will win the Super Bowl next year?" indicates the person is evaluating how to answer the question. You should allow others to finish their answers before responding so as not to alert them to this technique. Be advised that if the person you are talking to is aware of this technique, he/she will deliberately avoid using the word "Well."

The Well... technique is not 100% effective, but it does provide you with at least one indicator of deception. The Well... technique used in conjunction with other Poor Man's Polygraph techniques further increases the probability of detecting deception. The Well... technique allows you to test the veracity of others without them knowing that you are testing their veracity. Simply ask them a direct Yes or No question and let their words do the talking.

John R. "Jack" Schafer, Ph.D., earned his degree in psychology from Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, California and served as a behavioral analyst for the FBI.

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