Have you ever been lied to in a way that really stung? Even small, seemingly inconsequential lies can leave big scars. Lying is a very natural defense mechanism we all play into at one point or another during our lives, with some people having a real penchant for it while others have very obvious tells.
Needing to lie or being lied to is never fun, and though we try our best to avoid it, lies really can come from anywhere. However, research shows that there are ways we can word things that help us avoid dishonesty and allow us to receive the answers we both want and deserve to hear.
Lies Are Inescapable
It's impossible to navigate life without being fed a lie at one point or another. Though they exist on a sliding scale of severity from innocent to catastrophic, it's never fun to find out you've been lied to.
It'd be a futile venture to try and completely avoid lies, but what if there was a way you could prevent them from ever occurring in the first place, allowing you to maintain control of conversations and get what you want out of them?
Science Is On The Case
In a recent issue of Current Opinion in Psychology, an article by researchers Eric M. VanEpps and Einav Hart was published in which they discuss deception. The article explains how to ask better questions that are more likely to draw the truth out of the subject before the concept of lying can even enter their thoughts.
There are a number of ways you can shape and mold your questions to allow for more truthful responses, but combining all of them is the best way to increase your honesty odds.
Before The Questions Take Place
This strategy is as much about the interaction that takes place around the questions you're asking as it does about the questions themselves.
For one, you have to get as much information as you can before and during the conversation leading up to the questions you want to ask. This can be through prior research on whoever you're speaking to, or the use of improvisation to incorporate new knowledge gained into your follow-up questions. You can also learn how to time your questions correctly in response to that knowledge, leaving the subject with no room to lie.
Understanding Questions As Signals
Remember that this is all part of a conversation, and conversations are two-way streets. As much as you're reading your subject's answers to determine whether or not they're truthful, they're also subconsciously analyzing your prompts.
Those answering questions in, for example, a job interview setting will often gear their answers toward what they believe the interviewer wants to hear. The timing and tone of your questions can shift their answers in a less-than-truthful direction because they believe it's the answer you want.
Learn To Ask Better
To avoid subjects feeding you answers, word your questions as broadly as possible and don't imply anything. If you're asking someone about their feelings, don't mention any specific emotion in your inquiry. Rather than asking "Did that make you angry?" or "How excited were you?", you can instead word it more vaguely, like "How did that make you feel?" or "What emotions came up during that?".
The frequency with which you ask questions can also affect the answers you receive. Asking lots of simpler questions in a shorter period of time could signal that you want simple, direct answers. This removes details and nuance, which can affect answer accuracy and not provide you with the opportunity to learn whatever it is you want to know.
Respecting The Other Party
You want to ensure you're asking questions in a way that doesn't insult the other person's intelligence while respecting their time.
The best way to avoid this is the prepare ahead of time. As much as you can, anyway, as many of these situations involve quite a bit of spontaneity. However, if it's a planned interview or something of the sort, make sure you learn what you can about the person you'll be speaking to so you're not wasting time on questions you can easily find the answer to elsewhere.
You also don't want to appear too vague as to undermine their intelligence. Make sure your questions hold significance and don't make any assumptions. If it's something the subject feels passionately about, they'll want to give you that information.
These types of interactions aren't just about obtaining as much information as possible. They're also about making good impressions, strengthening pre-existing relationships, and developing a good rapport.
With that in mind, make sure your questions aren't too sterile. It's more than okay to delve into some emotional talking points, even though it may feel awkward at first. Sharing sensitive and honest conversations can do wonders when helping two people grow closer.
That being said, make sure those types of questions are asked at the right time with the right context. Springing them on someone out of nowhere can be off-putting and intense.
Not Too Close
It's also important for those questions to not appear too intrusive. You want to learn about the other person, yes, but not in a way that leaves them feeling pressured to reveal something they might not be comfortable sharing yet.
When considering what questions you might want to ask when approaching a situation like this, always consider the harm that could be done if the other person takes your question poorly. If the risk far outweighs the potential reward, it might be best to skip it.
In order to stop subjects from simply saying what they think you want to hear, remain neutral, even a bit vague. However, don't let that disengage you entirely. You still want to show interest in what they're saying so they know that you value their insight and expertise.
You also don't want to come off too strong when it comes to personal matters. Learning more about someone in an effort to become closer isn't a bad thing, but you need to make sure you're not making your guest uncomfortable lest they pull away from the conversation.
It's All About Trust
That's really what it boils down to. Making people comfortable, not undermining their intelligence, learning about them before their arrival, not making any assumptions about them, these are all matters of respect.
Conversational hacks and tactics can only get you so far, and while these tips will help draw out honesty when it comes to someone you don't know well yet, the best way to ensure people tell you the truth is to simply be trustworthy. Respect people, respect their time, and respect their input, as all of these will make them want to be honest with you.