Photo by Goehrum Christian, Dreamstime Stock Photo


There is no Pinocchio’s nose — no one cue that will always accompany deception.” – Leanne tin Brinke

The New York Times just wrote a less than flattering piece on TSA’s decision to spend $1 billion on training thousands of “behavioral detection officers.”  Their job is to scan passengers visually for possible terrorist threats while waiting in line.  The article goes on to talk about how these officers have been trained to detect deception by looking for body language “signals” that give liars away.   This includes the belief liars glance to the right when lying.    The author also commented, “…it seems TSA has fallen into the trap that they can read minds by watching body language.”  Interesting….

If that’s the case, its disturbing.  Why?  Because visual cues only tell half the story.  Visual cues can show you when there’s a change in emotion (anxiety, fear, etc.) during a situation, but it won’t tell you why there’s a change. When I teach classes on verbal and visual “red flags (aka talking points)” I talk about my belief that in order to correctly interpret body language signals, you have to have a combination of both types of “red flags” along with follow up questions before you can arrive at a conclusion.  Why?  Because, dishonesty looks like other emotions.  And, incorrectly jumping to a conclusion can get everybody in trouble. Not only does it hurt the accuser’s credibility; it also damages the innocent.

I don’t know what TSA’s training program involves.  However, if it doesn’t involve teaching attendees the importance of follow up questions coupled with how to ask the right follow up questions, maybe it should.    

If you would like to read the NY Times article, here’s the link:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/25/science/in-airport-screening-body-language-is-faulted-as-behavior-sleuth.html?_r=0

Special thanks to Frog Dog Communications in Houston, Texas (www.frog-dog.com) for sending me the article!

About Alicia

20 years ago I had no idea other people didn’t recognize and interpret body language the way I did. It was just something I picked up on naturally.
I am a national conference speaker, facilitator, and coach, specializing in non-verbal communication. I received my Master of Science in Human Resources from the University of Houston.
My passion is helping others become influential so that they can reach their career and business goals.

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