Poor Man's Polygraph Part 2

Land of Is

The Poor Man's Polygraph consists of a series of techniques that increase the probability of detecting deception using verbal cues. The Poor Man's Polygraph provides deceptive indicators, not proof of deception. No one verbal cue indicates deception, but the probability of deception increases when clusters of deceptive indicators are present. The Poor Man's Polygraph provides non-threatening, noninvasive techniques to test the veracity of others using the cluster method.

The Poor Man's Polygraph is especially useful for parents. Kids, especially teenagers, tell their parents the truth when they know their parents will approve of their activities and become evasive or even outright lie when they know their parents will disapprove of their activities. Fortunately, most of the time children and teenagers tell the truth and parents need not worry. However, the time to worry is when kids become evasive or deceptive, because they know they have either done something that their parents would not approve of or are reluctant to discuss a sensitive topic. The Poor Man's Polygraph or more apply titled in this instance, The Parental Polygraph, allows parents to monitor their children's activities and intervene when necessary to prevent them from going too far down the wrong path. Since the Poor Man's Polygraph techniques are noninvasive, children will not know their veracity is being tested and the parent-child relationship remains intact. The Parental Polygraph and other verbal indicators of deception and cues to determine if children are reluctant to talk about sensitive topic are presented in Fibs to Facts: A Parental Guide to Effective Communication.

The Poor Man's Polygraph consists of the following techniques: Well..., Land of Is, Forced Response, Why should I believe you?, and Parallel Lie. The Poor Man's Polygraph will be presented in a five part series. Part 1 presented the Well... technique. Part 2 will address the Land of Is 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.

The Land of Is

Yes or No questions deserve "Yes" or "No" answers. When people choose not to answer "Yes" or "No," they go to the Land of Is. The Land of Is occupies the space between truth and deception. This murky area contains a labyrinth of half-truths, excuses, and suppositions. President Clinton's grand jury testimony in the Monica Lewinski investi¬gation inspired the concept of the Land of Is. The following is an excerpt from Clinton's grand jury testimony:

PROSECUTOR: Your statement is a completely false statement. Whether or not Mr. Bennett knew of your relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, the statement that there was no sex of any kind in any man¬ner, shape or form with President Clinton was an utterly false statement. Is that correct?

CLINTON: It depends upon what the meaning of the word is means. If is means is, and never has been, that's one thing, if it means, there is none, that was a completely true statement.

Clinton took the prosecutor to the Land of Is. The prosecutor asked Clinton a Yes or No question. Clinton for obvious reasons chose not to answer "Yes" or "No." Notwithstanding, an analysis of Clinton's statement suggests that he was truthful. If "is" means never has been, then "is" equals nothing or "is" = 0. If "is" means there is none then 0 = "is." The propo¬sition "is" = 0 and 0 = "is" is, indeed, a truthful statement. Clinton told the truth, but the truth about what?

The following exchange between a mother and daughter demonstrates The Land of Is technique.

Mom: Your teacher called this afternoon and told me that she suspected you of cheating on an exam. Do you cheat on your exams?

Daughter: I spend two hours a night studying. I study more than anybody I know. People who don't study are the people who have to cheat on exams. I study all the time. Don't accuse me of cheating!

Mom: I'm not accusing you of cheating.

Daughter: Yes, you are!

Mom asked her daughter a simple Yes or No question. Her daughter chose not to respond with a simple "Yes" or "No" answer but, instead, took her mother to the Land of Is by using Misdirection. The daughter changed the focus of the question from her cheating on exams to the amount of time she studies each day. The daughter ended her response with an accusation, which put Mom on the defensive. The topic was no longer about cheating but about Mom making unwarranted accusations. If the daughter cheated on her exams, she would rather talk about her mother making unwarranted accusations than the topic of her cheating on exams. Failure to answer Yes or No questions with "Yes" or "No" answers is a strong indicator of deception.
Mom could have prevented her daughter from going to the Land of Is by first recognizing that the technique was being used and then redirecting the conversation back to the initial topic of inquiry. For example:
Mom: Your teacher called this afternoon and told me that she suspected you of cheating on an exam. Do you cheat on your exams?

Daughter: I spend two hours a night studying. I study more than anybody I know. People who don't study are the people who have to cheat on exams. I study all the time. Don't accuse me of cheating!

Mom: I know you study hard and get good grades. That's not what I asked you. I asked you whether or not you cheat on your exams. Do you cheat on your exams?

Redirecting the conversation back to the initial question forced her daughter to answer the question, "Do you cheat on your exams?" Her daughter must answer "Yes" or "No" or take her mother back to the Land of Is. Failure to answer a Yes or No question with a "Yes" or "No" answer is not conclusive proof of deception, but the probability of deception does increase significantly. If her daughter did not cheat on her exams, answering "No" would not be difficult. The truth is simple. The truth is direct. The truth is not complicated.

The following exchange demonstrates how her daughter would have answered the question if she did not cheat on her exams.

Mom: Your teacher called this afternoon and told me that she suspected you of cheating on an exam. Do you cheat on exams?
Daughter: No. I don't cheat on exams but I know a lot of other kids who do cheat to get good grades.

The daughter answered the Yes or No question with a simple "No" response. Additionally, the daughter was not afraid to talk about other people who do cheat. Truthful people are not afraid to talk about the topic in question; whereas, liars usually want to distance themselves from topics that pose a threat. The book Psychological Narrative Analysis: A Professional Method to Detect Deception in Written and Oral Communications contains a comprehensive list of verbal cues that signal deception.

In another example, Dad suspects his son is using drugs. The best way for parents to find out whether or not their kids are drinking or using drugs is to ask them a direct question.

Dad: Are you using drugs?

Son: Taking drugs is really stupid. Besides, I don't have time to do drugs. I'm either at school or football practice.

Dad: I know you spend a lot of time at school and at football practice. That's not the question I asked. I asked you if you use drugs. Do you use drugs?

Dad asked a Yes or No question but did not get a "Yes" or "No" answer. Instead, his son took him to the Land of Is. If the son did not use drugs, he would have had little difficulty simply answering "No." Dad recognized that his son took him to the Land of Is and redirected the conversation back to the initial question. Again, the failure to answer a Yes or No question with a "Yes" or "No" answer is not conclusive proof of deception, but the probability of deception does increase significantly.
The Land of Is technique compliments the Well... technique presented in Part 1 of this series. As you recall, beginning an answer to a direct Yes or No question with the word "Well" indicates the person asking the question will receive an answer contrary to the answer he/she was expecting. Consider the following exchange:

Dad: Did you do your homework?

Son: Well...I was waiting for Jimmy to come home from football practice so he could help me with some of the problems.

The son's response began with the word "Well," which means he was about to give his dad an answer he knew his dad was not expecting. The son then took his dad to the Land of Is by offering an excuse. The son did not want to answer "Yes" because he did not do his homework. He did not want to answer "No" because he knew he was suppose to have completed his assignment. Since the son could not answer "Yes" or "No," he had to take his dad to the Land of Is. The son's response contained a cluster of deception indicators, which further increased the probability of deception.

People who lie put pressure on themselves when they fail to answer Yes or No questions with "Yes" or "No" answers. Struggling with a guilty conscience and the complexities of hiding the truth are stressful activities, but the stress is self-induced. If you want to know what people are thinking or doing, ask them direct Yes or No questions and let their words do the talking.

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