Baselining is a very short period of time where you establish rapport with the other person, asking a series of open-ended questions while you study the individual to get a take on their normal behavior (Driver 74). This is critical. No baseline, no lie detection. In fact, being in rapport with someone actually reduces the chances they will be dishonest with you. A handy little fact to remember when you’re in a difficult situation.
Rapport begins with you. Set your body language so you are open and welcoming (Driver 78). Uncurl your legs and arms, keep your zones open and angle your belly button directly toward the subject (yes, I’m serious) (Driver 78-79). Next, listen empathically. This means truly listening to the other person and feeling as they feel – you’re walking a mile in their shoes. Listen to their stories, mirror their movements (very subtly) and maybe even confess to a small embarrassing moment of your own – which makes you appear less threatening.
Ask open-ended questions, like: “I’m so excited, I’m buying my kid his first bike. Wow, that brings back some memories right? Tell me about the first bike you had as a kid.” (Driver 82). The key is to share a bit about yourself and then pitch the open-ended question (one in which a simple yes or no answer will not suffice) and then OBSERVE and LISTEN. This is the art of the baseline. You are giving the individual the opportunity to tell a story that they ordinarily would have no reason to lie about.
While you’re observing, do the baseline checklist and note:
- How much “room” are they taking up? Are they turtling (shoulders pulled forward and inward) or expanding (legs wide spread, shoulders back). (Driver 83)
- Where is their chin, up, down? (Driver 84)
- Where is their head, tilted left, right? (Driver 85)
- Do they typically touch their face and for how long and where? (Driver 85)
- Are they fidgety or relaxed? (Driver 86)
- Note their voice – soft or loud talker? High, medium or low pitch? Slow or fast talker?
- What are the words? Do they use pronouns (this is one of the faux pas definitely tied to deception – once the pronouns get dropped there is usually something going on) (Driver 88). Do they use verbal filler, um’s, uh’s? As the lies increase so do the verbal fillers. Are they using absolutes (i.e. I always do that, I never do that) (Driver 88).
Notice that in the above list, with the exception of the last bullet, I didn’t say any of these movements meant anything. Only that you should notice what their natural pattern of movements are when they are not lying – when they are telling their little story that they should have no real reason to lie about.
You are also watching for patterns in their behaviors and taking mental notes.
If possible, get a few readings on the baseline. Try some different non-invasive questions, bring others in your conversation if possible, and in some cases it may be beneficial to observe the person when they don’t even know you’re around or that you’re watching them. This may provide you different clues or baseline behaviors as you attempt to validate (or discredit) previous assumptions.
Once you know their baseline, what they are like normally, you can begin to move towards more sensitive territory and begin to watch for shifts in the baseline. A shift doesn’t necessarily mean they are lying, but the shift should tell you that further investigation is warranted.
Driver, Janine, and Mariska van Aalst. You Can’t Lie to Me: The Revolutionary Program to Supercharge Your Inner Lie Detector and Get to the Truth. New York: HarperOne, 2012. Print.