According to Byrne & Whiten, 1988, one element of social intelligence is the ability to be Machiavellian. In other words, the capacity for improved deception (without being detected), whilst being able to detect deception in others. Everybody lies. Studies show that an average of 1 – 2 lies are told by a person each day, and most people are lied to between 10 and 200 times a day.
THE LIES PEOPLE TELL
That begs the question, why do people lie? But before we answer that question, there are many kinds of lies, including but not limited to:
- White lies
- Exaggeration and minimization
- Omission and embellishment
Lies are told as a result of consequences. When someone tells a white lie, often referred to as the most harmless of lies, they are trying to account for someone’s feelings, or protect someone from getting hurt. For instance, if your colleague just didn’t want to make it to the office Christmas dinner, so instead of stating it they said that their dog was sick and needed to be home. It doesn’t affect anyone adversely and gives them the opportunity to politely decline without hurting anyone’s feelings.
Consequences have a huge part to play in lying. When the liar doesn’t want to deal with consequences, they find a way to deal with it in a different way – usually one among the list above. The more the liar has to lose, the more elaborate their lie.
Some common misconceptions about liars include that they avoid eye contact, they look up and to the right or left when they’re presenting facts or feelings as the case may be, and that certain genders are better at spotting lies than others. If it were really that easy, there wouldn’t be an entire field of science based on nonverbal communication (we’re talking about behavioral psychology).
EMPATHY vs SYMPATHY
To empathize with someone is to understand and acknowledge their standpoint, while not necessarily agreeing with it. You may have your own opinions about the topic at hand, but you respect the other person’s opinion.
On the other hand, when you sympathize with someone, you not only acknowledge their standpoint, you agree with it. Both are important in different circumstances, but it’s key for you to analyze your own feelings during a conversation. Are you being confrontational, indifferent, empathetic, or sympathetic?
INTERVIEWING WITH EMPATHY: A BODY LANGUAGE STANDPOINT
The fundamental goal of hiring is to fulfill a need in the company. Job postings attract about 200 – 250 resumes on average. When you shortlist someone for an interview, it’s obviously because you feel they bring something to the table that many others don’t.
When candidates lose out on the opportunity to be hired, it can be broadly attributed to one of three factors:
- Lack of preparation.
- Their verbals don’t match their non-verbals, thereby giving rise to feelings of distrust.
- Their inability to defend or explain something on their resume that they may have embellished or unintentionally included.
Before we strategize, let’s talk about the limbic system here, as it is the driver for most authentic nonverbal communication.
The limbic system is responsible for our most primal instincts – freeze, flight, and fight, in that order. Its relevance to body language is explained in great detail in the book “What Every Body Is Saying” by Joe Navarro. Joe was a specialist in the FBI and responsible in identifying moles within the bureau.
When one is confronted with an unfamiliar situation, the limbic system’s first response is to freeze. If this is not a viable option, the brain instructs the body to prepare to flee. In such a situation, the blood flow is redirected to the extremities. With the entire body singularly focused on running, creative thinking is not even an option anymore.
When fleeing is not an option either, the brain focuses on preparing the body for a confrontation.
Let’s put ourselves in the candidate’s shoes for a moment here. In a situation where a candidate is competing against 200 or 250 others just to get their resume read, and then competing against several others who are also invited for an interview, it can be safely said that in the short term, the stakes for a candidate are much higher than they are for the company.
On the other hand, if the company hires the wrong candidate – some people are just naturally better at interviewing, but not necessarily great at their jobs – the long term losses are greater for the company.
Since we’re talking about just the interview process here, let’s consider the short-term situation. In an unfamiliar, high-stakes situation, a lot of candidates are bound to be nervous. Nervousness presents itself in different ways, and can often be mistaken for a mismatch between a candidate’s resume and their personality.
To get the best out of any candidate, you should allow them to let their guard down, so it’s easy to establish a baseline. Empathizing with the candidate will make them comfortable and help them open up to you. Not only will you gain a deeper understanding of the candidate’s capabilities but your ability to identify the right future employee and make an unbiased decision will improve drastically.
The other advantage of establishing a baseline is acquiring the ability to detect when something doesn’t feel right during an interview. Sudden tics such as twiddling their thumbs, not making enough or making too much eye contact, and similar patterns could indicate a change in the interviewee’s mindset. At this time, from an empathetic standpoint, you would want to find out if the candidate is feeling OK. During an interview, a “why” question will almost always elicit a defensive response. Instead, use “what”, “for what reason”, or a similar line of questioning.
There are two ways to improve your bottom-line – improving your numbers and improving your work culture through trust. Interviewing with empathy will do more than just present you with insight on the best candidates; it will build an early foundation of trust that is sure to motivate your new hire thrive in a productive work environment.
Ram Sundar is the Founder of Sailfish Group.