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Everyone lies: Building a rapport with your suspect

Once you’ve established the definition of a lie and the psychological set, ask the subject a question such as ‘Have you ever lied to your children to make them behave?’

In our investigations we speak with many people — victims, witness, and suspects — to gather information to solve the case. During this process, we find that people lie to us — not just the suspects, but victims and witnesses as well.

My first rape case is a good example. A young woman claimed to have been raped. She was lying to cover her infidelity with a man who was not her fiancée.

When speaking to her fiancée, she could not keep her emotions in check. He asked what was bothering her and she stated she was raped. It’s lucky her deceit was detected and the young man from the one-night affair didn’t go to jail.

The point here is that everyone lies, and it is up to us to detect them.

Establishing the Psychological Set
I and many others have written about the behavior we observe that indicates truth and deception — that is not the issue here. The behavior is caused by the stress of telling the lie. The point I want to discuss is how to generate the stress that drives the behavior.

We do this by bringing to the forefront of the subject’s mind that they are, in fact, lying.

Everyone lies every day, but, if you ask a person “are you a liar?” the answer will usually be no. People consider that some lies are allowable — they rationalize their lies, transforming their belief that the lie is not a lie

For example: a child asks a question about an adult subject the adult is uncomfortable in answering. The adult gives a false answer — a lie, or as it is often described as a “white lie.”

With this perceptual change, the stress of telling a lie is not generated to cause the deceptive behavior we look for. We want the person to focus on the fact they are lying when they tell a lie. This is called a “Psychological Set” as defined by James Allen Matte, Ph.D.

To establish the psychological set, we begin by talking to the subject, telling them we wish to interview them about the case. At the onset of the interview we thank them for their cooperation and we expect them to be honest with us. As a part of the discussion, we want them to focus on “what is a lie?”

To begin with, ask the subject to give you their definition of a lie. After they describe their definition of a lie, ask the subject, “Are you a liar?”

Again, the usual answer is “no.”

Ask them “how many lies do you have to tell to be a liar?”

They may give you a number. However, you want them to recognize that if you tell one lie, you are a liar. You can tell them that everyone is a liar. Ask the subject “What is a lie?”

Tell them, “A lie is something that is not 100% truthful.” Write on a pad the number “99.9%” for the subject to see. Point to it and ask them, “If an answer is 99.9% truthful, it is still a lie?”

Get them to agree it is a lie. This focuses the subject on the act of lying, bringing it to the front of their mind.

It’s like a game I used to play with my daughter. I’d tell her not to think about an elephant. She would agree, but every time I asked her what she was thinking about, she would say she was thinking about an elephant.

When she evaluated what she was thinking about, it would bring the thought of an elephant to the forefront of her thoughts. When I asked what she was thinking about, it would remind her to not think about an elephant. That thought would bring the elephant to mind, and now she was thinking about the elephant.

As she went around the house, she would consider what she was thinking about, and the elephant would pop into her head. Eventually she would come to me and ask “Daddy, can I quit not thinking about an elephant now?”

I’d tell her “OK, stop not thinking about an elephant.” As she would start to turn away, I’d say, “but, don’t think about a giraffe.”

The point of this story is to bring to the forefront of the subject’s mind the fact that a lie is anything less than 100 percent truth. It is the elephant in the room.

Ten Key Questions
Now that you’ve established the definition of a lie and the psychological set, ask the subject a question such as, “Have you ever lied to anyone in authority?” or “Have you ever lied to supervisor about a policy violation?”

Generally, everyone has done this in their past. It is an old offense and currently is of no consequence. The subject will usually lie and say they have not lied in these cases. After they say this, discuss the fact that they just lied.

You know they have done this in the past, just like everyone else has — even you. When they agree that they just lied, even though it is a minor lie, they have now admitted lying to you. This reinforces the psychological set that will generate the stress that drives the behavior. This is also a big step in building rapport for the person to admit they have lied to you, the investigator in the case.

As we begin our discussion and they start to lie, the thought of lying comes to their mind, creating anxiety.

The anxiety creates the stress that generates the behavior we evaluate for that question. A subject that is deceptive to our questions was involved in the offense. The person who tells the truth will exhibit truthful behavior that indicates they were not involved in the offense.

Additional questions you can use to help establish the psychological set are:

1.) Have you ever lied to someone you love and trust?
2.) Have you ever lied to someone to make yourself look good?
3.) Have you ever lied on an application to make yourself look good?
4.) Have you ever lied on your taxes?
5.) Have you ever lied to the police?
6.) Have you ever lied to a teacher at school?
7.) Have you ever lied to a person to break off a relationship?
8.) Have you ever lied to your children to make them behave?
9.) Have you ever lied to your parents or siblings to avoid a family event?
10.) Have you ever lied to someone to get off the phone?

This process and its application are discussed more fully in my book “Interview to Confession, The Art of the Gentle Interrogation” by John C. Bowden & Michael E. Lane. It is available at,, Ebay, and

John Bowden is the founder and director of Applied Police Training and Certification. John retired from the Orlando Police Department as a Master Police Officer In 1994. His career spans a period of 21 years in law enforcement overlapping 25 years of law enforcement instruction. His total of more than 37 years of experience includes all aspects of law enforcement to include: uniform crime scene technician, patrol operations, investigations, undercover operations, planning and research for departmental development, academy coordinator, field training officer and field training supervisor.