Sunday, December 23, 2012

Book Review: How to Spot a Liar

Title: How to Spot a Liar (Revised Edition, 2012)
Authors: Gregory Hartley and Maryann Karinch
Genre: Self-Help, Psychology


According to the back of the book, How to Spot a Liar "gives[s] you the tools needed to figure out what's really going on" and that this new revised edition "delves deeper into the how and why people lie."  It is recommended for "anyone with a cheating spouse or manipulative boss... anyone whose success and happiness depends on clear communication with others.... anyone who wants to become just a bit more inscrutable...."

Inside the book, a helpful Table of Contents provide chapter titles, some of which seem innocent enough, some of which hint at the darkness to come: 

Where Do These Techniques Come From?
Why and How Do People Lie?
Are Men and Women (and Children) Different?
Planning and Preparation
Baselining to Detect and Apply Stress
Extracting Information
Digging Out the Truth
Change the Way You Fight
Are You in Love or Captivity?
Getting the Upper Hand in a Meeting
Direct the Interview
Close the Deal
How to Avoid Falling for These Techniques


The first thing you need to know about the book is that author Gregory Hartley served as an army interrogator, so the techniques taught in this book are pretty hard-core and serious, toned down somewhat for civilian life.  You begin with a target in mind and start "baselining" them, that is figuring out their normal body language in a non-stressful situation.  Not all people who blink a lot are liars; sometimes that's just how the person acts.

Once you figure out a person's normal response, you begin to apply the stress in order to figure out how they react.  This can be done through asking the right questions, examples of which abound.  The book also discusses techniques used to get a person into a limbic state, that is, crying and confessing, although the authors recommend stopping short of that if you want to maintain a good relationship with the person.  Other chapters discuss using these techniques to escape captivity (ie, an abusive relationship) and how to persuade people (in a business setting, for example.)

Despite the cheery "self-help" style cover, How to Spot a Liar is not a simple, fluffy read.  To actually spot a liar, you will need to master several techniques and do a lot of research.  In that sense, I'm not sure how much effort a typical layperson would want to invest in it.  

On the other hand, it is a genuinely fascinating read.  Many of the examples were drawn from interrogation of war prisoners, and those comprised some of the strongest elements.  The writing is rather dense as such not easy to skim through.  But it is clear and compelling and filled with psychological insight and concrete examples. 


This book should be called How to Interrogated People in War and Everyday Life.  And I mean that in the best possible way.  Right now, I don't have to deal with a cheating spouse or manipulative bosses, but I do have several scenes in my writing where my characters are caught and interrogated, where they deal with intrigue, or where they just have to read the body language of another person.  And for those situations, this book is gold.

The part that sold me on this book was a section on which of the Myers-Briggs personalities are natural liars.  Being the Narcassist I am, I immediately skipped right over to my own archetype, the NFs or Idealists.  The authors wrote of them, "[The idealist's] keywords are authentic, benevolent, and emphatic.  This temperament type's mission and focus are on 'becoming' and harmony.

"And they make good liars." (Hartley and Karinch, page 70).

I almost bust out laughing at that.  Me, a good liar?  I giggle playing mafia and crack under poker.

But they continue that NFs are naturally gifted at imagining them inside that situation, becoming the lie in essence.  In doing so, they keep their body language at normal.  So, basically, the same traits that makes Idealists good actors and fiction writers also make them good at lying, if they so desire.

 Aside from using personality types, the book also discusses the way learning styles, body language, and motives people have for lying, all great character information.  There are examples of how to push people to the brink and bring them back (maybe).  This is all done in a non-violent way, by applying different kinds of psychological stress. 

Quite a dangerous book, I think, if it ever fell in the wrong hands.

I recommend this book for any writer who has lying characters or needs to write up an interrogation scene.  Personally, I'm going to re-read this book a couple of times and apply what I learn to some of my characters.

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