Comment: Our masks of integrity

Countless experiments make it clear that we all do it, are very poor at detecting it in others and its consequences can be very dramatic. Lying is so much an everyday event that its incidence has been found to average around once every three minutes of speech. It varies little by culture or nationality, although what people regard as lying and the way they betray it in their actions does differ significantly around the world.

The importance of honesty in business places a huge onus on the detection of lies and the avoidance of hiring inveterate liars. Yet few of us have a natural capacity to detect lies and generally perform little better than chance when put to the test. Nevertheless, detection is a skill that can be taught and with practice it can be a powerful barrier against those with serious things about themselves to hide from interviewers. For instance, people often betray themselves by hesitation or a change in the pitch and speed of their voice, A person’s rate of blinking is often affected as too is the removal of eye to eye contact. Much can be told from a smile. Guilty smiles are normally inappropriate, they frequently only show up on one side of the face, or just the lower face – and do not engage muscles around the eye. However, beware, Japanese people, often smile in odd ways just out of politeness rather than deceit.

A more disturbing phenomenon that can take over a nation and even, more easily, a corporate entity is described in the latest edition of the New York Review of Books by Serbian opposition politician Vesna Pešić. This is a “culture of total lies” where lying becomes “dominant in a society, as a result of the reinvention of reality and the denial of facts”. HR needs to constantly undertake a reality check to ensure that they are not feeding management processes that rely on constant fabrications. Mark Twain once said “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything”. Truth is easier and infinitely more efficient, yet it is forever under siege and if it is given space, like a cluster of germs, it will destroy its host.


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