Print Share Home

The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth...Maybe?


Kathryn Burnau, C.P.M., A.P.P.
Kathryn Burnau, C.P.M., A.P.P., Manager, Westinghouse Savannah River Company, Aiken, SC 29808, 803/557-5771,
Steven Clayborn, CPCM, C.P.M.
Steven Clayborn, CPCM, C.P.M., Personal Negotiation Coach, CCT, Grovetown, Georgia 30813, 706/860-7885,

86th Annual International Conference Proceedings - 2001 

Abstract. Is your supplier telling you the whole truth? This paper and presentation focus on the critical roles neuro-linguistic programming and nonverbal communication play in successful supplier and purchaser relationships and provides techniques for determining the honesty or deceitfulness of the communicated message. Presentation participants will conduct interactive evaluations to detect if someone is lying.

Introduction. Are you getting the whole truth and nothing but the truth...Maybe? Communication comes in many forms, but the most apparent and credible form of communication is kinesis, nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communications such as eye movement, gestures and arm movements, and body positioning send strong signals that reaffirm or deny the truthfulness of the verbal message. This presentation will examine scenarios that visually depict how nonverbal communication indicates whether or not a person is lying.

Participants will also learn how neuro-linguistic programming, the method in which a person processes information, can be a barrier to communication. People with an auditory processing style assimilate information differently than someone with a visual processing style. Recognizing a person's style and adjusting the delivery of the message accordingly can greatly improve communication.

Techniques to interpret nonverbal communication and neuro-linguistic programming styles will be discussed during this presentation. Purchasing professionals will gain a better knowledge of effective communication skills that are useful to discern if their supplier is telling them the whole truth. Our objectives are to help participants to:

  1. Learn how the identification of neuro-linguistic programming can improve communication.
  2. Recognize and understand the importance of nonverbal communication.
  3. Acquire techniques to discern is someone is telling the truth.

In today's business world salespeople and purchasing professionals are trying to develop long term relationships built on trust and cooperation in the hopes of reducing costs and increasing productivity and profits. However, deceit and mistrust often hinder building truly effective relationships. How important is it to know when your supplier or others are being deceitful? How much would you pay to know the other party's true intent? "While people lie for many reasons, their lying rarely benefits the person lied to. And there's that one undeniable truth about lying. Everybody does it, but nobody likes it when it's done to them." 1

Neuro-linguistic Programming. One factor of communication that can either impede or improve the sharing of information is neuro-linguistic programming. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a model of communication that helps us to understand how people process information and view their world by observing their verbal responses and nonverbal behavior. By understanding how an individual processes information we can then determine if their body language and verbal responses indicate they are being truthful or deceitful. NLP helps us to understand how an individual's body language coincides with their thinking.

Each individual has a predominate method of processing information which can be classified as either visual, auditory or kinesthetic. Visual people process information based on what they can see or visualize. Auditory people process information based on what they hear, while kinesthetic individuals rely on how they feel about the other party or the idea being presented. By understanding whether the individual is visual, auditory or kinesthetic, you can tailor your message to build rapport or analyze their verbal response to detect deceit.

How an individual views their work environment can be determined by their use of metaphors (this includes figures of speech, comparisons, similes and parables) in their everyday language. Someone who views the work environment as an armed struggle or battleground will have a more aggressive stance and is more willing to justify to themselves being deceitful than someone who views their work environment as a team oriented, family business. If you asked the question "Life is like?" and the other person completed the sentence, how do you think they would respond?

By understanding how someone processes information and how they view their relationship with you and the world, you can be more aware of how to structure your questions to determine their level of truthfulness. In negotiations, the ability to effectively read and understand nonverbal communications is like being able to read someone's mind or having a spy in their camp. It's invaluable.

Nonverbal Communications. Another critical factor that impacts effective communication is nonverbal behavior. The ability to accurately read an individual's body language or nonverbal behavior is critical in negotiations and open communications. Research has shown that approximately 93% of a message is based not on the words but on nonverbal signals such as appearance, body language, gestures, tone of voice, and pitch.

The business world first learned of the importance of nonverbal communications in 1970 when Julius Fast published his best selling book entitled Body Language. Although not written for the business world, it soon because a critical part of most sales training seminars. In his book, Fast introduced the idea that nonverbal signals such as posture, hand and arm movement, and gestures were more important than the words being spoken. Soon after in 1971, Gerald I. Nierenberg and Henry H. Calero published their book How To Read A Person Like a Book which expanded on Fast's work by applying the theory of kinesis and body language to everyday life.

Tactics and Techniques. When a Supplier believes that telling the whole truth will hurt him, his company, or the current deal in some way, he may conceal, camouflage, or misrepresent reality by telling anything from a complete untruth ("This is my final offer") to a little white lie ("I didn't know the specification called for that"). If a purchasing professional is suspicious that the message is one of deception, simple observations can confirm the suspicion.

Establish Baseline Behavior. When first determining that someone is being truthful or deceptive, a baseline of the normal behavior must be established. Focus the discussion on simple, non-threatening subjects that reveal truthful behavioral attitudes. Observe inconsistencies between words, gestures and emotions and changes in behavior clusters rather than single observations. Monitor how questions are answered and watch and listen carefully when the subject is changed.

It is quickly apparent that observing a person for his truthfulness and continuing the conversation is difficult at best for one person. Utilization of a negotiation team will prove effective in this situation. Team members can be assigned specific nonverbal communication behaviors to observe during the discussion.

Eye Movement. One nonverbal communication behavior that warrants observation is eye movement. Eyes have commonly been referred to as "the windows to the soul", and a person will tend to avert their gaze due to the belief his guilt can be seen. In addition to breaking eye contact, a deceptive person may also stare or glare for intimidation purposes. Another deceptive behavior is increased shifting of the eyes, blinking, or pupil dilation, as these behaviors can be involuntary and emotionally aroused. Finally, eye movement can generally indicate whether someone is communicating a truthful memory (eyes move up and to the right for a visual person) or if someone is communicating a newly created message (eyes move up and to the left for a visual person). Reliance should not be placed on eye movement alone to determine the truthfulness of a message. Gestures and arm movements are other nonverbal communication behaviors to observe.

Gestures and Arm Movements. A person communicating an untruthful message will engage in a variety of physical activities to reduce the tension associated with lying. Common hand and arm gestures are rubbing and wringing of hands; scratching, stroking, picking, and pinching; pulling of nose or earlobes; covering mouth or face with hands when talking; playing with one's hair; and hiding or clenching hands. Each of these hand and arm behaviors can indicate that someone is not telling the truth, however, greater accuracy in determining truthfulness is provided when one also observes body positioning.

Body Positioning. A person's body position can provide a strong visual message about the truthfulness of the subject. A person who is telling the truth usually sits upright, is open and relaxed, and leans forward on occasion. A deceptive person often retreats from a threatening situation with his body position. The body turns or moves away if someone is saying or listening to a message that makes him uncomfortable. A person may use an inanimate object such as a file or paperwork to form a barrier. Other body positions that suggest deceptiveness are crossing of the legs in a defensive position; foot wagging or swinging; or even a lack of body movement. Nonverbal behaviors mentioned do provide an indication that someone is not telling the whole truth, but coupling those nonverbal behaviors with an analysis of verbal behavior increases the confidence level for determining honesty or deceit.

Verbal Responses. Verbal responses are the most controlled behaviors people have. Surprisingly, many liars are betrayed by their words because of carelessness through what Sigmund Freud first identified as a "slip of the tongue". In addition to what someone says, messages are conveyed in how they say it. A truthful person generally answers questions with direct, spontaneous and realistic words. An untruthful person may fail to answer or delay his answer to questions. He may also respond to questions by restating the same words in the questions. Deceptive people may use a strong, definitive statement to try to convince someone of the truth such as " That price is below my cost". Liars also tend to qualify their answers more than honest people do by saying "to be perfectly honest, to tell you the truth, and oh by the way". Attention must also be given to how a person's voice changes in speed, pitch, and clarity. Analysis of verbal and nonverbal behaviors can give a strong indication of a person's truthfulness and assist in productive Buyer and Supplier communication.

Summary. Being able to accurately ascertain whether the other party is being truthful or lying is important in negotiations and critical to building trust and long term relations. Knowledge of someone's neuro-linguistic programming style provides insight into his method for communicating and possible truthfulness. Increasing one's knowledge of nonverbal communication behaviors, especially those behaviors described that indicate a possible attempt for deception, will also enhance communication. Coupled together, NLP and nonverbal communication can provide a strong indication of whether you are getting the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

  • Potash, Dr. Marlin S., Hidden Agendas, New York: Delacorte Press Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1990, pp. 31-52.
  • Reid, John E. and Associates, Inc., The Reid Technique of Interviewing and Interrogation, John E. Reid and Associates, Inc., 1993.
  • Ekman, Paul, Telling Lies Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage, New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1985. pp. 80-161
  • Lieberman, David J., Ph.D., Never Be Lied To Again, St. Martin's Griffin, 1998.
  • Knight, Sue, NLP at Work, Nicholas Brealey, 1995.
  • Dilts, Robert, Applications of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Meta Publications, 1983.
  • Yeschke, Charles L., The Art of Investigative Interviewing, Butterworth-Heinemann, 1997.
  • Walters, Stan B., Kinesis Interview and Interrogation, CRC Press, 1996.

Back to Top