After many years of practicing the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) method of empathy and then creating my own system based on NVC, called Practical Empathy (PEQ), I’ve become much more aware of when I’m being lied to.

How did this happen?

My hypothesis goes like this:

(a) When we communicate in person, we subconsciously take in and store visual, auditory, and scent data. This includes noting facial expressions; gaze; pupil dilation; respiration depth and rate; voice tone, volume, and cadence; body language; and even pheromone analysis.

(b) Normally, our brains combine that info with the words they are saying, as well as what we know of that person.

(c) If we get more verbal information – like feelings and needs/values (and the additional sensual data that comes when a person is asked deeper questions) – then it is an extra dimension of data to combine with the sensual information. This increases the probability of detecting anomalies between behavior and the words spoken.

In addition, knowing one person more deeply – those data points – while different for each person – have some overlap with all humans, meaning not only are we learning more about the current person we are relating to, but we have also gained more understanding of all humans to some degree.

Here’s an example of a couple different ways a casual conversation could go, so you can get an idea of how much more information can be coming in:

Q “How was work today?”
A “It sucked.”
Q “Oh sorry to hear that. Wanna forget about it over dinner and a movie?”
A “Sure!”

Q “How was work today?”
A “It sucked.”
Q “Oh sorry to hear that. Are you tired and frustrated?”
A “Frustrated yes. Tired, not so much.”
[notice here we are now getting new information we would not have gotten before.]
Q “Ah. Someone at work getting in your way?”
A “Yeah. My boss is trying to micromanage me.”
Q “Oh! I know you value your autonomy!”
A “Exactly! Super frustrating to have someone second-guessing me when I know my job.”
Q “I bet! It would be nice if they could show you more trust and respect, eh?”
A “Yes! I just need to be patient. Thanks for being such a great listener.”
Q “Of course! Wanna do dinner and a movie?
A “Sure!”

Not always a fun skill

Here’s the catch: People lie all the time. Especially when so many have been brought up to be “people pleasers.” I’ve been deprogramming myself for many years and there is still a significant part of me that wants to be liked and wants to protect people from pain, so I understand.

So it doesn’t feel so good when you know someone is being dishonest, but it can help to remind yourself their reason for lying is their worry about hurting your feelings.

The silver lining

Overall, however, this has been a useful skill that has come in handy and I would not change it. I’m actually still doing the kind of work that means I’ll get even more accurate with the “lie detection,” as well as more easily empathizing with the person lying. What helps is that this same work is strengthening my integrity, understanding, and acceptance, so I’m less likely to take it personal when being lied to.