By Robert L. Cain
Don’t you wish that bad tenants had a big red “B” on their shirts like the “A” Hester Prynne had to wear on her dress in The Scarlet Letter? Then you wouldn’t have to play a guessing game about whether to believe their sob stories and their “variations” of truth about what fine, upstanding, but misunderstood tenants they are?
Fact is, liars may as well put the “B” on their shirts. They give sure signs that they are not telling you the entire truth, or any of the truth, when they spit out their lies. We’ll look at some of the ways here.
I had a boss once who always gave away his lies. He made a weird gulp in his throat immediately before and after the lie came out. He’d make that noise, and I would immediately dismiss any and everything that followed it or preceded it.
Our last landlord, the one we had over 40 years ago, also gave herself away when she lied. She got a glazed look in her eyes and looked at empty air. Then she made up or otherwise embellished a story. We always knew it was an outright lie when she got that look in her eyes.
I know one sleazy jerk who gives away his lies with a short “ha-ha” laugh. Ask him a question and he makes up an answer that he thinks will please you, then places a “ha-ha” exclamation point on the lie.
Most people have no idea they are giving away their lying through body language or vocal spasms.
Paul Eckman, of professor of psychology at the University of California in San Francisco, says that catching liars is an art almost anyone can learn. People show tell-tale signs, he says, when they lie. “Liars usually do not monitor, control, or disguise all their behavior.”
In the book The Art of Questioning: Thirty Maxims of Cross-Examination Peter Megargee relates this anecdote.
“Attorney Lloyd Paul Stryker was a keen observer. He would watch carefully how the witness behaved in the courtroom and on the stand. He would rivet his eyes on the quarry during direct examination. . . . He looked for clues in the ways the individual expressed herself or himself. He listened for variations in tone of voice caused by the tightening of vocal chords. He notices pauses. He noted flashes of anxiety, dryness of mouth, moistening of lips, hesitations, discomfort, and uncalled-for repetitions of coached material. He watched for stammer and for needless reference by the witness to counsel’s name. ‘I never was there, Mr. Prosecutor.’ Eyes were of particular interest. How and when did pupils shift and dart? When did eyes narrow or blink? The giveaway laugh and wipe of forehead. Hands wring, cling, scratch, and readjust. Legs shuffle. A hand touches the pocket with notes taken from his lawyers on what to avoid at all costs.”
Body language and strange vocal noises can be indicators of a lie.
What we will look at are some of the things that people, including bad tenants, do that are giveaways that they may not be telling you the entire truth.
When you ask a question, just as Stryker did a witness, watch your applicant or tenant carefully. A question is called a “probing point” in body-language expert talk. A probing point may appear when a word or phrase “touches a nerve” during a conversation, especially one that involves whether an applicant will get to move into your rental property.
One of your questions may elicit a lip-purse, a shoulder-shrug, or a throat-clear, for example. Other signs may be stumbling over words, a higher voice pitch, or repeated swallowing. However, Dr. Paul Eckman points out that “is no guarantee that a lie is being told, but it signifies a hot moment when something is going on you should follow up with interrogation.” The question has hit some kind of sore spot with the applicant. Is it always something that will disqualify him or her as a tenant? Of course not. It could just be a bad memory. But you owe it to yourself to find out if it is important to you in your selection process and your decision whether to believe a tenant.
Body language expert John Mole provides the following list of body-language cues that could indicate someone is lying:
- Touches face
- Hand over mouth
- Pulls ear
- Eyes down
- Glances at you
- Shifts in seat
- Looks down and to the left
How does it work on the field of battle with an applicant in front of you and rental application in hand? Here’s an example:
Finally! You have an applicant! They look and talk like terrific people. They tour the property and pronounce it a “really nice place, someplace we could live forever.” They even talk about how close the unit is to the school their children attend and that they have friends just a couple of blocks away.
The prospect of them living there forever pleases you because the last three tenants have moved out after just a couple of months. Now here is someone who wants to stay a long time.
Hardly able to contain your excitement, you ask a simple question, “Do you think your last landlord will give you a good reference?”
“Oh, sure, no problem,” the wife says as she covers her face with her hand.
“Yeah, we got along—along, along fine, yeah, uh, fine,” says the husband while pulling his ear lobe. “He’s uh, uh, uh, uh, going to sell the building. That’s why we’re getting kic—, er,. Moving.” At that point, he stares at the ground, seemingly intensely interested in the bug crawling along the sidewalk. Then he glances at you out of the corner of his eye.
Too bad. And here you thought these folks looked so promising. You wonder why they don’t just tattoo “LIAR” across their foreheads. You vow to quiz their last landlord after making sure the number they gave you for him on their application is indeed their actual last landlord and not their best friend.
Other things to watch for that indicate deception are pupil dilation and fast blinking rates. Eckman observes that people make “fewer hand movements during deception compared to truth telling.”
None of these clues is absolute proof that an applicant is not telling the truth. They do mean that the person you are questioning is anxious or feeling stress. But liars, other than the pathological subspecies, always feel stress or anxiety when they spout their lies.
These cues should arouse suspicion about what they have told you. Remember at which question or at what point their body language indicating deception took place, and be extra vigilant in checking out that piece of the rental application. You are simply using your applicants’ body language to give you a better idea about where they might be trying to put one over on you.
Once you catch them, send them big “B’s” for their shirts along with the rejection letters.