Oct 19

Book Review: Is He Lying to You?

Is He Lying to You?: An Ex-CIA Polygraph Examiner Reveals What Men Don't Want You to KnowIs He Lying to You?: An Ex-CIA Polygraph Examiner Reveals What Men Don’t Want You to Know by Dan Crum

The book I wanted wasn’t available at the library, so I grabbed this because it was in the same section. I’ve read more than one book on reading body language, but this one purported to tell about more than posture and gestures. After reading Malcolm Gladwell’s BLINK I became fascinated by the idea that people could learn to read other people’s faces through practice. Alas, I am starting to think that is a holy grail I will never find. All these books on how to read people are about as useful as a book on how to swing dance.

I’ll start with what’s good about this book: Crum provides basics of reading body language (establish a baseline, look for stress responses to questions) and adds a verbal component. He lists specific ways in which people respond when they want to avoid answering questions. In his example, his hypothetical dating detective asks four men “have you ever cheated on anyone” and the hypothetical men answer. I found it interesting that his book rested on the assumption that all a woman would want to know was if her potential beau was a cheater or not a cheater. I, personally, would be more interested in knowing if he was a serial killer or a rapist, but hey, that’s just me.

Crum bases his theory on the idea that people will usually hedge rather than just flat-out saying the opposite of the truth, and that when they do lie, their body posture deviates from the baseline. I believe this is true, and most of the books I’ve read on body language agree with the idea that people’s limbic responses to the stress of lying will often give them away. (unless they are psychopaths or skilled actors.) The flaw in this reasoning is that people will have limbic responses to any unexpected question, especially if it’s in any way personal or threatening. If I ask a co-worker “did you steal my lunch?” they are likely to have a limbic response even if the true answer is “no.” Whereas the author of the previous book on body language I read was insistent that body language only indicated “confident” or “stressed”, Crum implies that a tapping foot or crossed leg will separate the filthy liars from the honest Joes. I doubt that the high incidence of false positives will improve the dating prospects of women who use these interrogative techniques.

In a way, this is closer to the book on reading people that I’ve been looking for, in that it tells you how to practice reading people so that you get better at it. I won’t be taking Crum’s advice, however, for two reasons. One, because I think it’s bad advice. He suggests keeping a journal of things that your beau says, so you can catch him in the act of lying. I think this is A. paranoid and B. close enough to what women already do to be unnecessary. Women tend to remember what people say, and discuss men with their girlfriends. The trick is not remembering, it’s trusting your own judgement. Assessing everything said to you as a possible lie is not likely to win you friends or happiness. This, and asking important questions at the first meeting, are the author’s two main strategies for finding the liars.

I started to dislike this book almost immediately, and I thought long and hard about why. Every author has a voice, and the author also tends to let you know who the target reader is. For example, BRIDGET JONES DIARY has the voice a spastic 20-something British girl who writes like she’s talking to her best friend. Rudyard Kipling’s JUST SO STORIES have the voice of a mature ex-pat in India speaking to a beloved young person. The voice and perceived reader of this book felt like a lying, arrogant asshole and the dumb bitches he didn’t respect. Men are mostly liars and deceivers, he says, but if you listen to him, he’ll show you how to spot the bums. If a person says “everyone else in this town is a racist, but I’m not” what he is really saying is “I’m a racist.” I don’t like the author or trust him. I know that’s an odd thing to say, since I’ve never met the author and never will, but that’s the conclusion I came to. The more he went on and on about how guys liked to deceive you “ladies” because they knew you would let them get away with it, the more sleazy he felt to me.

I also didn’t care for the writing. I felt that his acronyms made it unnecessarily confusing. Why tell readers to look for his WIN or his “sleep points?” Why not just tell them to look for his baseline behavior? He says ANS for “automatic nervous system” and then uses ANS. Why not just call it limbic response, or “automatic nervous system?” He has a list of points to remember, which he shortens to “Get REEAL.” This is his bullshit detector master list. He asks when was the last time someone looked you dead in the eye and said “get real?” I couldn’t help but answer this hypothetical question with “1988.” I didn’t bother remembering the list of points. The acronyms and other invented terms did nothing to improve comprehension.

His examples of how men blow off your question with guilt twists and other non-answers contained useful information, but the lengthy lists of bullet-pointed examples just clogged up the text. This is by no means a long book, but it still felt padded. I liked that Crum used the setting of a speed date and his four hypothetical suitors, but considering that this comes in the beginning and isn’t resolved until the very end of the book, I didn’t remember any of what happened, and by the time I got there, I wasn’t inclined to go back and reread.

I think this book needed fewer lists and a lot more examples. Ideally, a book on how to read people wouldn’t be a book at all, but something on the computer with videos to watch. The most helpful advice is “pay attention” and “trust your intuition,” plus the basics about baseline-versus-stressed body language. His pointers on body language are better covered in other books, and his advice to “trust your intuition” is true, but not easy to do, and he offers no advice. I have some advice: If you think Crum’s idea to write down everything your man does so you your man is a liar. That’s the thing about reading people: most of us are already really good at it.

If you can get past the sleazy arrogant contempt of the author, this might be an okay book for women who are tired of hooking up with liars. You could read over the part that tells you about things guys say when they don’t want to truthfully answer your question, and then remember that when a guy tries to use a guilt twist or something on you. I think there are much better books out there.

View all my reviews

1 comment

    • Kater on February 9, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Allison Morris sent me this interesting graphic she made.

    Please Include Attribution to OnlinePsychologyDegree.net With This Graphic Lying Infographic

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