Get Someone to 'Fess Up if They've been Lying to You

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According to Iowa State University psychologist Christian Meissner, trying to get a confession out of someone by being confrontational usually results in non-compliance and ends any chance of open communication. Instead, the practitioner recommends using cooperation and social principles to achieve a confession. Although the technique was originally designed for law enforcement professionals, the methods are just as effective for anyone dealing with someone suspected of lying.

Establish a Relationship

Not unlike a “good cop” scenario, scientists found that interrogators who conveyed a message of sympathy or understanding were more likely to encourage a suspect to relax and be more forth coming with information. In sharp contrast, behaving in an accusatory and cold manner causes the other person to be on guard and shut down. Once a suspect seems cooperative and trusting, the interrogator must then use techniques to retrieve the truth.

Guilt by Association

Along the lines of appearing empathetic, individuals may convince the liar to come clean by appealing to their emotions rather than their logic. This method involves the interrogator admitting to know the truth while sharing with the suspect that they too have committed acts that brought shame. In this way, the conversation seems to create a special bond while freeing the liar from needing to feel guilty about the lie. The confession may progress to the questioner pretending to understand the liar's actions and expressing relief that they are not alone in resorting to this type of behavior. The guilty party then becomes curious and wants to know more about the incident. However, the interrogator must stipulate that the liar provide a full confession before telling their story.

The Scharff Technique

The method was developed by and named for Hanns Scharff who played the role of German interrogator during the Second World War. Current researchers evaluated the method and found that Scharff's technique proved much more successful at obtaining accurate information compared to using a direct line of questioning. The Scharff method involves letting the suspect believe that the interrogator already knows the truth by offering a contrived story about what actually happened. As the lair listens to the story, they cannot help but add details or make corrections to the scenario. In this way, the guilty person is unaware that they are actually confessing.

Bad is Good

Using a type of bait and switch is another technique to throw a liar off track and get an admission of guilt. For example, an employee calls in with an understandable excuse for not being able to attend work that day. An employer later determins that the employee lied about the reason for wanting the day off. The employer may then calm the waters by telling the employee that most people commit the same act. However, they were impressed by the employee's creativity that might prove useful in the future. With the atmosphere relaxed, the employer might then encourage the individual to confess the real story.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "Get Someone to 'Fess Up if They've been Lying to You," in, January 25, 2016, (accessed September 29, 2022).