What to Do If Your Coaching Client is Lying to You? (Liz Scully)
July 30, 2021
You suspect your coaching client is lying to you. Do you confront them? Let it go? Just how do you detect and deal with lies? Liz Scully, a coach who's studied FBI interrogation techniques, knows all about lies and how to detect them. Join Melinda and Liz to discover the signs of lying and what to do if your client is lying to you.
• Episode summary: It can be extremely challenging and difficult if you, as a coach, suspect that your coaching client is lying. But it turns out, there are nuances to lying; not all lies are detrimental and they can even sometimes serve as self-protection. Wait, what? Isn’t a lie a lie? The answer, it turns out, isn’t so simple. Today’s conversation is all about how to tell when your coaching client is lying, how to handle the situation - and whether the lie is even worth addressing.
• In this episode, Melinda Cohan, our host and senior coach, has an eye-opening and lively conversation with LizScully, the founder of Rethink Central, an organization that provides business strategies for entrepreneurs. They talk about what can motivate a client to lie and some common signs of lying, including micro-expressions that we have no control over. They also explain the difference between big untruths and so-called white lies. The session also addresses some compelling reasons not to challenge a client’s lie or a story they tell themselves.
• In this episode we discuss:
How an animator became an expert in lie detection.
The role of microexpressions in lie detection.
The difference between big untruths and the so-called social lies.
What are the signs of lying?
What to do when your client seems to lie.
Reasons to not challenge a client's lie or a story that they tell themselves.
– “Because we all think that we're kind of a closed perfect circuit. And, obviously, we're not. We're leaking information all the time.” – Liz Scully
• Guest Bio: Liz Scully spent 20 years working on big Hollywood films - she’s won an Emmy and her work is multi-Oscar nominated. Now, she’s a business strategist and a Mastermind coach and KNOWS business can be ridiculously fun as well as highly effective.
• She’s Irish, nomadic and as confused as everyone else why she has an English accent.
• Resources or websites mentioned in this episode:
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• Episode transcription: What to Do If Your Coaching Client is Lying to You? (Liz Scully)
[00:00:05]Liz: I actually hear lies better than I see them because that is often two things that happen when someone's about to tell a lie. There is a longer than expected pause while they think of the lie and there will be a pitch change. Sometimes some people get squeaky, we've all seen that as a kid. No, we didn't eat the sweets and you're like, yes, you did.
[00:00:31] Melinda: Hello and welcome to just between coaches, the podcast that tackles difficult coaching conversations head on. My name is Melinda Cohan and I run a business called the coaches console. The Coaches Console has supported more than 50,000 entrepreneurs and creating their own profitable coaching business.
I've invited Liz Scully onto just between coaches to discuss a topic that can be challenging to talk about lying. We'll look into different types of lies, how to detect them and what you as a coach can do about it. Liz is the founder of Rethink Central that provides business strategies for entrepreneurs. She's also a mastermind coach for influential coaches. Before I bring Liz on, I'll start with reading an email from a listener that addresses the topic. Again, any email that you send me that I read on the air will be anonymous unless you tell me otherwise. So don't hesitate to be open about what's on your mind. Here's what anonymous had to say.
Dear Melinda, there's something that I can't shake and I need your help and input. Maybe it's nothing, maybe there's something to it. I'm new at coaching and recently started to work as a business coach. What do I do if I believe a client is lying to me? I take pride in trusting my gut, even when it doesn't make sense. My client shared with me from the beginning that she inherited some money and so paying for my packages was not a problem. I'm so grateful for that. And all the ways I've been able to support her and all the things she's been able to accomplish. However, in our last coaching session I heard her mention that she had to borrow money to be able to pay for my services and that it's weighing on her budget. Should I challenge her on this or let it go? I can't help but wonder has she lied about other things.
Dear anonymous. Thank you for your mail. And this question we're going to talk about lies today, but we're also going to talk about the difference between the masks that we wear to protect ourselves and the so-called white lie. Yeah, mm. Today I invited Liz Scully on the just between coaches. Liz is a business strategist and a mastermind coach and knows business can be ridiculously fun as well as highly effective. She's irish nomadic and is as confused as everyone else. Why she has an English accent. Welcome, Liz,
[00:02:53] Liz: It's lovely to be here. Thank you for having me,
[00:02:56] Melinda: Liz. You have a fascinating background. Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your path to what you do today? So the listeners, they can just get a feeling for who you are.
[00:03:06] Liz: Absolutely. So I'm a business strategist now, but my background is in film. I worked in animation for visual effects for 20 years producing big Hollywood's things, getting blown up stuff, which means that I'm aware of horrendous deadlines, lots of stress, how to manage big groups of people. And crucially for today's conversation, the subtle nuances of the way our body maybe tells us the truth when what's coming out of our mouth isn't actually true.
[00:03:40] Melinda: Ooh, I love that. Now I am excited to dig into this subject of lying. But first I know that you've been trained in lie detection. Tell us about that and how that came about.
[00:03:52] Liz: Absolutely something I've always been interested in. Um it's the work of polar extent. It is the work that is used as work for the security forces and security teams. But crucially it is also used by animators. There are seven fundamental expressions that all humans while certainly all humans that have grown up in the west have. That all of us really can't hide their called micro expressions and we have no ability to hide this. Their emotions like disgust, anger, confusion, happiness. We all have them and we will often just quickly flash them before we actually carry on our stuff. We have no control over it. It just happened. So as an animator we studied these because these are very helpful to make natural movement. But once I became a coach, I realized quite how useful it was to be really good at this stuff. So I studied with some CIA and FBI trainers and I did some hostage negotiation training with the the chap that was at one point the head of the FBI hostage negotiators. And between all of that information. It means I'm very good at spotting lies and it's fascinating.
[00:05:08] Melinda: Okay. That is fascinating and super cool. Like in general my point of view is you know when it comes to lying a lie is a lie. Do you have a different perspective on that?
[00:05:19] Liz: I do I really do because what I learned was that we all lie all the time continually about pretty much everything and there is a lot of different graduations and obviously there's big lies like no I did not take that million dollars. No I did not sleep with your sister. Those kinds of lies are obvious. Untruth. But there's all sorts of little lies that we all tell all the time. Of course I don't mind waiting. No, that top looks great on you. No, you can't tell you put any weight on and that kind of stuff we are surrounded by. And what I got from my training was that by truly realizing how many people were lying all the time, How often I lied myself that when you're surrounded by it, you can free yourself from the fact that this is absolute truth and this is a lie.
[00:06:14] Melinda: So why do we lie? Because you know there's that response. I've done a lot of work with women over the years that can response, oh, I'm fine. And you know that fine stands for frantic, irrational neurotic and emotional, right? And it's like, yeah, you are so not fine. So why do we lie? What what purpose does it serve?
[00:06:33] Liz: I believe it's social Greece. It is what we need to rub along with the other people in community. I mean to be honest, if you were actually truly honest all the time, it would be quite abrupt. So we have all learned to make those little white lies, the socialize that the things that make just life flow more smoothly. For instance, if you ask me out and I say, oh I've got something on that night that's much more polite than actually, I don't really know you, I don't want to spend time with you and I have a date with some haggard ass tonight, so I've got I've already got plans is so much polite.
[00:07:13] Melinda: So it just keeps everything smoother. It also sounds like it just keeps it easier for everybody. Like there's no confrontation.
[00:07:21] Liz: Absolutely. But it's also I think it's a greater truth as well because that those kinds of truthiness and real truth, because for me to say I can't come out tonight because I'm doing something, it's no less true. If what I'm doing is sitting on the sofa, but what I'm telling you is something that's more polite and more acceptable. And obviously if you did ask me over, I'm totally freaking should you require that?
[00:07:48] Melinda: So as a trained lie detector, what are some of those signs? Like you said? There’re seven fundamental expressions, like what are some of those signs? How can you tell someone is lying to you? Especially as a coach, this is where I just love this.
[00:08:00] Liz: So the big thing about lie detection is you can tell something's wrong, but you can't tell what that means. So for example let me give you the classic lie detection example which is you're standing in a line at the security section of the airport and a big guy with a gun pulls you out of the line and says come with me. Now that micro expression will flash across your face and if it is fear or surprise, they are perfectly reasonable facial expressions because maybe you're frightened of missing your flight, maybe you're frightened of men with guns. Maybe your mom told you to not get into any trouble at the airport and you're frightened of that. But if you flash disgust or humor then they're slightly out of concordance. It doesn't actually make sense to be in that way. So that's what security people are looking for. And as a coach that's what you're also looking for. How does your client normally react? Have they suddenly become evasive? Are they not looking you in the eye? Have they suddenly got very, very quiet? Have they started looking down or there's classic things that we all know if you put your hand in front of your mouth, sometimes you're sort of inadvertently trying to scoop the lies back into your mouth. So you're not sharing them. So you're looking for things that don't match from that normal baseline behavior.
[00:09:29] Melinda: And so when it comes to lying and these micro expressions like you talked about some of them, several of them you'd either have to be as a coach coaching in person or on zoom. So you can pick up on some of these nuances. A lot of coaches are on the phone. So how do you hone in on those kind of signals or signs If you're just on the phone with somebody
[00:09:50] Liz: I actually here lies better than I see them. Because that is often to things that happen when someone's about to tell a lie. There is a longer than expected pause while they think of the lie and there will be a pitch change. Sometimes some people get squeaky, we’ve all seen that as a kid. No, we didn't eat the sweets and you know, yes, you did. So the pitch change swallowing because your vocal cords have become much tighter and have lost lubrication and that feeling makes us swallow. It's the same feeling you get when you're about to cry in the back of your neck gets really hot. That's because your body is trying to lubricate your vocal cords. So pitch change, weird pauses and also, if it's a full on lie then lies, we find it much easier to tell a lie going forward. So if you genuinely suspect a lie, you can test it a bit so you can hear it. Oh, that was weird. There was a hitch, there was something so you can spot that. And as I said, I personally spot it much better from a pitch tone. And then once you've asked about that, if people can't fill in the details, then it might be a lie doesn't mean anything, but it could be alive.
[00:11:10] Melinda: That's interesting. You know, the swallowing one. This has been a question that I've had forever. Like, I know that that's something and I'm like, okay, there's something there. Like I see that hard swallow, but I now really understand the vocal cords have tightened their dryer and so the swallowing becomes more difficult. That is so fascinating to understand what's going on, like physically behind that to detect it. Now I feel when my clients are lying, like you said that you can hear it more than see it. I can feel it like all of a sudden, it'll be more like an intuition, like, wait a minute, something's going on. I kind of get a little crinkle in my forehead, like wait, what just happened? And I don't know that I could, I'm not trained like you with the animations and those micro expressions, maybe I'm picking up on that. But it feels like something that I sense more than hear or see. Can you talk about that with your intuition picking up on things?
[00:12:13] Liz: Well, Malcolm Gladwell would say in blink, which is an entire book about why we should trust our intuition that your mind is synthesizing all of those hundreds of little cues that we're seeing. You're hearing something, you're seeing something, maybe you're you're noticing that they're slowing down. Their switching from a bolder, more outside voice to a more tenuous indoor voice. So you're assimilating all of that information and from that your intuition is making your spidey sense tingle. But I think you're actually doing all the same things and that's the interesting thing about really deep body language security training is that we don't need it really because we're all humans, we've all seen other humans, I am super sensitive to it but we can all do it because we've all met other people in all sorts of environment
[00:13:07] Melinda: and then it's just a matter of honing in those skills like you've really honed in on him because of your background and film and working with animation. But we all naturally kind of feel into it and as coaches when we can consciously fine tune those senses, we can really support our clients and even fiercer ways.
[00:13:25] Liz: Oh completely, completely. And I'm interested in what you do when you when you hear that or you see that you get that feeling because for me, all I do is say I've just seen something or I just heard something, what did that mean?
[00:13:40] Melinda: I do something similar. I say I noticed something, I'm not sure what it is, but can you tell me more about X, Y, Z. Whatever they just said or did and I acknowledge that I recognize something. I don't give it any meaning. I don't try to make assumptions. I just acknowledge that I'm sensing something, and I ask what's going on or tell me more.
[00:14:02] Liz: That's perfect textbook. It really is. And I bet you because I know it happens in my practice all the time that when you do that quite often people burst into tears.
[00:14:11] Melinda: Yeah, they get really quiet. I had one client hang up on me one
[00:14:15] Liz: time because
[00:14:17] Melinda: you just hit the nail on the head and then they have to face, do I want to change this or do I want to? Not now. That client called me back. And uh, but that was interesting.
[00:14:30] Liz: Yeah, because we we all think that we're kind of a closed perfect circuit and obviously we're not, we're leaking information all the time and to be called on it. And particularly when you're being coached, you're very vulnerable. You've really opened yourself up. And if someone spots that little *** in the armor, you think you've opened yourself up completely and then someone says, what was that? And then suddenly you're wide open. That can be very, very unexpected. And it's quite brave for them to step into it.
[00:15:02] Melinda: Very, very much so. I mean, that's the power of the coaching relationship right there in that moment.
[00:15:08] Liz: Yes, yes. Um I don't know about you, but I try not to air punch when people burst into tears because it was like, yes, breakthrough is coming
[00:15:16] Melinda: quietly to yourself.
[00:15:18] Liz: Very, very bad body language. If you do that, don't do that kids. Yeah.
[00:15:24] Melinda: Now I I want to confess something when this topic came up and I was like, we're going to talk about lying. I had just a crazy reaction. I'm like, no, we're not gonna talk about lying, lying, that's not. And it was just such an interesting response. I call it coaching around this and I refer to it as as patterns. But when we applied that word lying, it rubbed me the wrong way. And it's so fascinating to hear you talk about the distinction between those big obvious untruth or those little lies those how did you call social Greece is, I think is what you said, that just kind of keeps things flowing smoothly and it's just something that humans do, right? And when we're talking about the coach client relationship, I think that it's something to address immediately. But do you think that every line needs to be addressed with your clients that can you see any reason to not challenge a client's lie or a story that they tell themselves?
[00:16:28] Liz: Actually, I can I train mastermind coaches as part of my business. And I was training somebody who came to me and said one of the people in my mastermind, it's a business mastermind were growing their businesses. But every time she talks about how happily she's married, she's lying. Should I challenge her on it? And we had a long conversation, we looked at the footage and she was indeed, every time she talked about how happy things were at home, her head went down, her voice got squeaky. She had all these strange pauses in her speech. So she was definitely not telling the truth. Is it relevant to her growing her business? Yeah, possibly. Is it the job of the coach in that space to talk about it? Not till she brings it up. In my case. I would say that if she came and said I'm not growing my business because my life is in tatters and I'm pretending everything's fine then yes, you talk about it. But if she is simply cracking on everything's fine at home and it isn't till that impact her business, which obviously you and I know it is already impacting her business, but till she is willing to talk about it, we can't bring it up. I don't think.
[00:17:41] Melinda: Well, that's interesting. And I actually disagree. One of the phrases that I use with my clients is how you do one thing is how you do everything. And so if I sense that they're like in the scenario that you talked about every time she talks about her marriage, everything's fine and happy and great. And if I catch that, I will simply bring it up that phrase. One of the beliefs that I hold is how you do one thing is how you do everything. I will ask my client about that if they agree or can they see the relevancy in that? And then I will ask them or acknowledge. You know, I'm sensing this as you talk about your marriage and I don't think that's true. And because of how you do one thing is how you do everything. I wonder where you're not being truthful with yourself as it relates to your business, where we are coaching just to see what patterns might be showing up to give them an opportunity to explore that.
[00:18:43] Liz: I absolutely absolutely agree. I agree with what I said, I agree with what you said. But my question for you is would you do that in a group situation?
[00:18:53] Melinda: Maybe not in a group situation. If it's in a group situation then I would probably keep it in the group setting about the topic at hand, business in this particular scenario and then offline whether a private phone call or online coaching or however I'm coaching somebody, I would reach out to that person, one on one to share that noticing and to give them an opportunity to explore that.
[00:19:19] Liz: Yes, I think that's I think that's the key.
[00:19:21] Melinda: Now let's go back to anonymous and with the letter that anonymous wrote in in the situation that they've experienced with their client. What can anonymous due to address the suspicion that the client is lying without attacking her in this particular situation. Any suggestions on that?
[00:19:40] Liz: Well, I think I would just go in with some open questions. So at the moment they said, oh that I borrowed some money personally. I would have just piled in with, oh I thought that was an inheritance and then get very quiet to listen to what they said because that could easily be a social lie. I got alone. But it was a loan based on the fact that I did get an inheritance and understand and it was just easier to say it was an inheritance. But if it was just the two of us on the call and the client said that then yes, I would say, oh hang on. And I would do it immediately with no pressure or value. I certainly wouldn't jump in. I'm sure none of us wouldn't either. I wouldn't jump in with that sounds like a live
[00:20:24] Melinda: and I often approach it from the state of being curious and I will actually use that word with my client. Like if I spot something or sense something, I'll be like wait a minute, I'm curious about something. I thought I understood X, y, z. What I just heard you say was abc did I misunderstand something.
[00:20:42] Liz: Yes, exactly. And
[00:20:44] Melinda: I will take it on myself to the way I describe it is to let them save face so that they can gracefully either clear up something or maybe I did misunderstand and I don't want to make that assumption or they can get into alignment or we can see where that conversation takes us.
[00:21:03] Liz: Absolutely. Absolutely. And anonymously second point about is the client lying about other things, I would say, although certainly surely
[00:21:13] Melinda: how you do one thing is how you do
[00:21:14] Liz: everything. Exactly. Yeah. But I guess my feeling on that is that yes, all humans lying. Therefore, is this person lying? Absolutely.
[00:21:24] Melinda: Now let's go back to the scenario. You know, your response? Was it immediately If you heard it, you would immediately just kind of jump in. Wouldn't be an attack. I added the word. Be curious with it. Bring it up there. Now in this situation with anonymous, it's happened. It's gone past. Would you have anonymous? Go back and address that or just pay attention moving forward?
[00:21:47] Liz: That's a good question. I guess I would probably obviously it's it's bothering anonymous enough to have written in. So I would suggest the start of the next conversation. You have your client. You know, I was thinking about it and I realized that maybe I've got something wrong. I would definitely go with the same sort of line that you were talking about. I am a fool. Please educate.
[00:22:09] Melinda: So let's look at lying from a different angle from the coach's perspective. Are there situations that you lie to your clients and for what reasons if you do?
[00:22:21] Liz: Yes, I do actually like to people all the time, but you know, in a helpful way. So I as I said, I run mastermind groups and we have to keep people to time. And one of the things I lie about the most is how much time people have before they have to move on to the next person. And that's partly to keep the group moving. But also because subjective time inside the spotlight, the conversation we're having now we're really concentrated. It's going to feel like it's much longer than actual clock time. So I consistently tell my clients that everybody in a full person mastermind, everyone will get about half an hour for their hot seat. And what actually happens is the first person gets 40 minutes and the last person gets 25. And I have been doing that for years and I swear nobody has noticed. Okay. That's what, yeah,
[00:23:19] Melinda: we don't tell anybody. So it's interesting. I'm just sitting here, you call that a lie. And if I think about it, It is because you know, not everybody's gonna get 30 minutes. It's going to work out to be about like this. I would call that strategic planning to manage your time management. But it's interesting. It's like no one we really get down to it. Uh, I guess technically it is a lie. So that's fascinating. And then it's also as a coach. Yeah. You know what you're omitting and not saying is that also a lie?
[00:23:56] Liz: Exactly, exactly. Um, so I think maybe the difference between us is that I consider everything that isn't technically true ally, but also that, that kind of doesn't matter because truthiness is okay in this case, whereas all of that social Greece is all about those things that kind of make everything smooth. one of the other places I like to clients quite a lot is in some cases I don't spell out explicitly quite how difficult what it is they're doing is going to be because who wants to know, yes, it's going to be three years of absolute help. You know, maybe I would explain it's quite difficult growing your business takes a lot of time and effort. But I mean, have you ever met a single entrepreneur who hasn't said at some point if I'd known how long this was going to take and how hard it was going to be, I would not have started.
[00:24:49] Melinda: And so you to manage expectations. There's that lie within what you're revealing to help them maintain momentum and maintain that hope and forward movement.
[00:25:02] Liz: Exactly. And I mean if they're completely hopeless and totally loathing it, I absolutely would not say oh sure you'll make all your money by the weekend. I don't don't tell that kind of life but I would potentially not spell it out in quite the same details. I would make sure that they were interested and motivated and ready to do the work but maybe not go into the excruciating nous of certain parts
[00:25:24] Melinda: of it, interesting. So now anonymous. Let's summarize a couple of the things that we've talked about today. First of all, the fascinating insight that Liz has shared with us with those the micro expressions, right? Being able to understand whether you see them or hear them or feel them as a way to process those. But understanding the pattern of your clients and when those patterns change to be able to pick up on it. And you've picked up on that anonymous with your client because you've heard them say something that contradicts. So looking for the pattern of where things are different and then understanding that your client might be holding two truths in mind and what I mean by that is there is the actual truth and then there's the story that they're telling themselves so that they can keep moving forward and so understanding when it's appropriate to call them out on it. Or like Liz was saying not necessarily this is not the time and place for this, this is not the topic, this is not the coaching that we're doing or the setting that it could be done in. And then also to find a way to come up with an authentic response to the lie without attacking whether it's immediately just acknowledging it. Being curious, you can use those coaching skills of reflecting what you heard and then asking them to expand on it and that means that you have to dig deeper into your coaching skills, that's your responsibility as the coach, but don't fall into the niceties just for the sake of keeping a client because they're paying you and that's great and you want to keep them longer, Liz, is there anything else that you want to add to just to kind of summarize everything that we've talked about today for anonymous
[00:27:13] Liz: no, I think that's sort of it. And I really like that point about holding two truths at the same time because so much of coaching is gently leading people from that one truth over to what may be more helpful. Second truth
[00:27:27] Melinda: I find as a coach that when I I'm in a good place, I'm not triggered by the topic the client is bringing up or you know, I'm working with my coach and I'm working out all this stuff and I can show up in a great place with my client, then I can have fun with it. I can even be cheeky with how I acknowledge it or you know, maybe press their buttons if I need to. But as our role of the coach, that is what we're doing, we're guiding them from one truth to the next to really uncover those patterns so that they have the greatest opportunity for growth.
[00:28:05] Liz: Absolutely.
[00:28:06] Melinda: And I would say I I say it so many times, if you get triggered by client's behavior, you must take it up with your coach. It is so important for you to have a coach because if not you're going to keep swirling and then you can't support your clients from that place, it's going to be much harder to have that powerful, fierce, compassionate coaching from that place of truth so that you can catch them in their lives. And I just Liz I can't thank you enough for this great conversation on a tricky topic, but it's so fascinating. I took so many notes from our conversations and learned so much from you and you can find out more about her at rethink central dot com. That's rethink central dot com, Liz, thank you for coming onto the show.
[00:28:52] Liz: Thank you so
[00:28:53] Melinda: much. If you like today's podcast, you'll surely enjoy the inspirational episodes over at making it in each episode. A successful entrepreneur will share what making it means to them and what they've learned along the way. I'm Melinda Cohan and you've been listening to just between coaches, just between coaches as a mirror cfm Original production. This episode was produced by Cynthia. Lamb. Danny Iny is our executive producer. I wrote this episode with Michi Lantz and Cynthia. Geoff Govertsen assembled this episode. If you don't want to miss future episodes, please subscribe to Apple podcasts, Spotify or wherever you're listening right now. And if you like the show, please leave us a starred review. It's the best way to help us get these ideas to more people. And if you have a question for just between coaches, put the show title in the subject line and send an email to podcasts at Mirasee dot com. That's podcasts, plural podcasts at M I R A S E E dot com