Liar, Liar! Pants on Fire! Assessing Credibility and Identifying Deception Factors in Workplace Investigations

What comes to mind when you are investigating credibility in the workplace? This is not as easy as getting someone to admit to having done something that may be against workplace conduct rules or company policies. Assessing credibility involves digging deeper to get to the truth, sifting through the ‘he said, she said’ and the conflicting stories and accusations. To reach the bottom line, we need to take a number of factors into account when it comes to assessing credibility of the Reporting Party, Responding Party, and any witnesses that may be involved.

Consider the Players

Ask yourself if the Reporting Party and Responding Party can be viewed as credible, and whether the witnesses are genuine participants, whether they are a friend, a non- or disinterested party, or whether they stand to gain from a particular outcome of the investigation. They could also be intentionally stirring the pot, and it is our responsibility as investigators to identify them as such.

Credibility is the quality of being trusted or believed and being convincing or believable. The factors to consider when assessing credibility include the following:

• Is the person’s recollection clear and accurate, do they remember details?
(Depending on the time frame.)
• Is the person being evasive or elusive?
• Are there material omissions – has the story changed over time?
• Is the person’s story consistent/corroborated by other witnesses and documentary evidence?
• Is the person a non-party or otherwise disinterested? Is there a motive? Do they stand to gain something from this?
• Is it believable or plausible?
• Is there something in the person’s history that might cause you to consider his/her story unreliable? Every incident needs to be looked at separately, but the witness’ past may have a part to play depending on their honesty etc.

Credibility should be determined by factual evidence, and not based solely on body language, tone or demeanour. The evidence needs to be comprehensive.

What is deception?

To cause someone to believe something that is not true, typically in order to gain some personal advantage.

Behaviour can indicate deception, and it is often the subconscious, or involuntary indicators that set people on a specific course of action. In general, people are not comfortable deceiving others. This causes physical, involuntary reactions which are often mistaken for admission of guilt. People who are not deceptive typically do not react this way, however it is unwise to assume that this is a definite indicator.

The investigator’s demeanour can also affect the interviewee’s behaviour. You need to be mindful of the job at hand, which is collecting information – you are not interrogating a suspect, merely trying to get to the bottom of a situation.

Deception indicators may happen for many reasons. Therefore, it is essential to get a full picture, and watch out for clusters of these indicators. One or two may happen simultaneously, however more than that in specific combinations may signify deception. Here are a few deception indicators that you can look for in investigations:

1. “To tell the truth… in all honesty… well if I were to be honest… honestly…”
• Be weary of someone who tells you to trust them, they can often be guiding you
away from the real truth.

2. Failure to answer.
• Changing the topic or avoiding that particular question because they don’t have
facts on their side.

3. Start and stop sentences.
• Taking time to process before they answer, buying time to tell you what they think
you want to hear.

4. Absence of denial
• Not denying the accusation outright, but burying the denial in a long-winded
answer, or redirecting through non-specific answers (‘I didn’t do anything’ VS ‘I
didn’t do this specific thing’).

5. Reluctance or refusal to answer.
• Avoiding their real answer by misdirecting or giving a non-answer.

6. Repeating the Question / Non-Answers.
• Buying time to find a suitable answer because they cannot provide a truthful one.

7. Overly detailed answers.
• Having had enough time to research and provide additional irrelevant information
in an attempt to appear innocent.

8. Barking Dog – Attack Mode.
• Use of indignance as a defence mechanism, trying to throw you off course.

If you’re looking for more information on assessing credibility, check out our on-demand webinar Liar Liar Pants on Fire!

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