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The Poor Man’s Polygraph

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Dr. Jack Schafer is a psychologist and a retired Special Agent for the FBI. He specializes in what he calls “narrative analysis,” which entails examining the other-than-conscious motivations people have for choosing a particular word or phrase in a given context. He trains peace officers and others in this skill for interviewing suspects. He’s started to teach Just Plain Folks like you and me, though, and he’s taken a blogging spot (Let Their Words Do the Talking) on Psychology Today.

Every article I’ve read there has been awesome in its usefulness. (Cops aren’t big on theory. Theory can get you shot!) What got my attention, though, was his five-part series called “The Poor Man’s Polygraph:”

  1. The Well… Technique
  2. The Land of Is
  3. Forced Response
  4. Why Should I Believe You?
  5. Parallel Lie

Short, to the point, extremely useful, easy to learn and implement. Go check it out!

Written by Michael DeBusk

January 14th, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Locking Eyes

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A couple of weeks ago, I posted about an article I read on President Bill Clinton’s charisma and someone’s attempt to model a bit of it. I also mentioned that I’d be playing with it. I thought I’d update here.

According to the original article, there are three things Bill Clinton does that make people feel as if a “reality distortion field” has wrapped around them:

  1. Eye contact;
  2. Judicious manipulation of interpersonal space; and
  3. Focused attention.

I’m pretty good at the second one, though there are a couple of aspects of it that I could improve. It isn’t so much the actual space, but the way the other person perceives it. There are things one can do to make interpersonal space seem smaller or larger without actually moving toward or away from the other person. I think that’s an interesting idea. I’ll play with that last.

The third one? I’m horrible at it. Nearly 25 years of security and Emergency Medical Services work have required me to habitually cast my attentiveness as wide as I can. It looks like I’m easily distracted, especially in unfamiliar places. I’m really not, but there’s no way someone talking to me can tell that. I’ll play with that next.

What I’m playing with now is eye contact. I’ve always been really bad with it. When I lock eyes with someone, I get the same feeling I get when I look into someone’s living room window. Sure, if the curtains are open, you can’t help but notice it in passing, But to really look? It feels invasive to me. Like I’m violating someone’s privacy.

Irrational, I know. I’m hoping to find someone who can offer me a better way to think about what I’m doing. In the meantime, I’ve been doing it anyway. Looking into people’s eyes and keeping it.

Two things have surprised me.

The way other people respond to it is a surprise. Most of them genuinely don’t mind, and some of the rest really seem to appreciate it. Those who (apparently) feel like I do simply look away quickly, but they don’t seem offended.

Many of the first group suddenly find me a better conversationalist. Not that I say anything. They do a lot more talking to me. I guess if I appear fascinated, they must assume they’re fascinating… which does make sense. A number of people have found it difficult to go on about their business. One deliciously beautiful woman actually accused me of preventing her from leaving.

The other surprise was my own internal responses. Absolutely nothing bad has happened, and sometimes I feel surprised at that. On occasion, when I lock eyes with someone and they look away quickly, I feel a small, but primal, sense of power that I’m not at all happy about in retrospect. With many, I really am a better listener; I want to listen, I actually crave it. And the most unusual response of all: one particularly blue pair of eyes actually fascinated me… and I mean that in the original sense of the word: “to cast a spell which renders one unable to move.” I have studied hypnosis long enough to be able to break that “spell,” but for the few seconds that I was there, I went meta to it and wondered how something like that could happen to a grown man.

I learned, as well, that there are times when I need to not make or hold eye contact.

In a restaurant, for example, no matter which staff member I looked at, they stopped what they were doing and asked what they could do for me. I was actually interrupting them without meaning to. Not polite.

I spoke with the CEO of the hospital for which I work a couple of days ago, and I intentionally did not lock eyes with him. I won’t tell you the circumstances (no, I wasn’t in trouble; far from it) but somehow I felt it wasn’t appropriate at the time. He’s the type of guy that I could connect with that way if the context were different, though.

Tonight, I made eye contact with a co-worker, and I quickly broke it. I believed that if I held it, he’d ask me what the heck I was doing. I didn’t feel like explaining because I was ready to go home. You know how it is.

It’s been interesting and pleasant so far, and I think it’ll continue to be.

If you have a good, strong belief that allows you to make and hold eye contact comfortably, would you mind sharing it with me in the comments? I’d appreciate it.

Written by Michael DeBusk

December 6th, 2010 at 3:24 am

An Easier Way to Detect Lies

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Cognitive Daily recently posted some research that may give us an easier way to improve our ability to tell when other people are lying to us:

But what if there was a shortcut in sniffing out a lie, relying on our own instinctual behavior? Would it be possible to improve the lie-detecting abilities of ordinary people without all that training? A team led by Mariëlle Stel had a hunch that our tendency to mimic the physical and facial expressions of the people we are speaking to might help us to tell when they are lying.

It isn’t what you are probably thinking. I think you’ll be surprised. Check it out:

Is There an Easier Way to Detect Lies Than What You See on TV?

Written by Michael DeBusk

January 15th, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Reading Basic Emotions

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Eyes for Lies points to a sweet video by Dr. David Matsumoto, “Characteristics of Basic Emotions”. In it, Dr. Matsumoto explains the differences between the seven “basic” or “universal” emotions and the rest.

Written by Michael DeBusk

January 15th, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Negotiation and the Art of War

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I’ve long loved Sun Tzu’s book, The Art of War. It’s a book on conflict resolution, not specific to war, and I’ve learned and used a great deal of its wisdom in my work.

Today I read an article by blogger Anil Polat at the foXnoMad blog, a blog about travel. Apparently, dealing with difficult airline ticket agents is an art form, and Mr. Polat has used Sun Tzu’s work to increse his own success:

Sun Tzu’s book, The Art of War, written more than 2,000 years ago is one of the world’s most famous books on strategy. While Tzu was writing for generals in the army, the fundamentals of his wisdom can help you overcome even the most stubborn airline representative.

I enjoyed the article tremendously, recognizing my approach with angry customers in it.

Read the full article, Use Sun Tzu’s The Art of War To Win Battles At The Ticket Counter, at the foXnoMad blog.

Here’s Lionel Giles’ translation of The Art of War at the Internet Classics Archive. (Free, but not prettily formatted.)

Here’s Thomas Cleary’s translation at (If you want to buy it, though, I encourage you to get it by way of the link in Mr. Polat’s article, so as to thank him for writing it.)

Written by Michael DeBusk

August 26th, 2009 at 8:08 pm

Wagon Wheel

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“You know what they call me?” he asked, a little too loudly.

I’d been keeping an eye on him for a little while, off and on, because he was Italian. Some of the staff, for all of their intelligence, don’t know how to handle it when a guy whose parents came over from Italy starts acting normal. “Normal” for an Italian guy is to talk loudly and rapidly, wave his hands about, and get “uncomfortably” close, and on rare occasion I’ll get a call about a guy “getting in my face and yelling and making threatening gestures”. It’s kind of funny, I think.

I had no trouble connecting with him, and he was free with his verbal affection for me. To top it off, he was intoxicated and getting “up there in years”. A little earlier, he’d mentioned that his father died at age 90; not too long after, he mentioned, in a little too offhanded way, that he himself was 89. So I’m thinking that he’s thinking about how he’s probably going to die soon.

Anyway, so he asked me if I knew what they call him, and I said, “No, what do they call you?”

“They call me Wagon Wheel.”

I thought that an odd nickname. “Wagon wheel?”

“Yeah, Wagon Wheel.”

That’s odd,” I said.

“Yeah”, he added. “Wanna know why they call me Wagon Wheel?”


“It’s cuz I been through a lotta shit!”

How could I not laugh?

I tore myself away and went to take care of other business, but I stopped in and checked on him a couple of times. When it came time to let him go home, he said, “Hey… are you going to remember anything? Have I given you anything?” It really mattered to him.

“Yeah, you bet. I’m gonna remember “Wagon Wheel”.

“You a wagon wheel? You been through a lotta shit?”

“Sure,” I said, “I been through a lotta shit. They could call me Wagon Wheel too.”

“Well, then, remember this,” he said. “There’s four wheels on a wagon. Three other wheels been through the same shit as you.”

If he was worried about leaving a legacy, he can stop after that.

Written by Michael DeBusk

February 14th, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Lessons from the Cuckoo’s Nest

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Doug O’Brien sent me some AMAZING news: Andy Austin is coming to New York City!

IMPROV!: The Use of Improvisation and Drama in Slightly Crazy Environments

April 17th, 2009:

This introductory presentation will outline the “rules” and formula for successful and comedic improvisation.

As readers of The Rainbow Machine — Tales From a Neurolinguist’s Journal will be aware, I often like to utilize the building of humour, tension and drama into his change work sessions and rarely do I rely on any pre-set or rehearsed routines and scripts. Given my client group, often the client will bring their own drama and unique humour to the session and a high level of flexibility and responsivity is needed in such situations.

No previous acting experience is required and no one will be expected to perform in front of the group. Book early and hold on to your hats, because this will be a fun and fast paced evening.

LESSONS FROM THE CUCKOO’S NEST: Further Tales From a Neurolinguist’s Journal.

April 18 & 19th, 2009:

Working with other people’s madness isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always fun – but it can be. Psychological and emotional pain is rarely ever funny but I often question if change really needs to be serious. Far from joking at another person’s expense, during this weekend workshop you will be introduced to, and will explore, some therapeutic patterns and algorithms that I have found useful when working with challenging clientèle and serious mental illnesses.

I’ve learned a lot from Andy over the years, both in e-mail and on Usenet. Now I get to meet him and train with him. If I’m alive in April, I’ll be there!

Update: Here’s the link to sign up! There are discounts for signing up early, so go!

Written by Michael DeBusk

December 23rd, 2008 at 1:36 am

Ticking off the pros, the third

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I remember the Psychiatric Social Worker as being a wonderful lady, and I liked her a lot. Smart, curious, well-educated, and really easy on the eyes. Sometimes I wondered about her street smarts, though.

The night I’m thinking of, she was evaluating a big, burly, truck-driver-looking guy because he’d threatened to kill himself. She’d decided he meant it and needed to stay with us for a few days. Under state law, we have to give everybody a chance to sign themselves in, and she was going to do that… and if he refused, she’d have him committed against his will.

(We do it more often than we like. It sounds mean, but, really, it’s not. Most people in that position end up glad we did it.)

She was worried that he’d react violently when she offered him this apparent Hobson’s Choice, so she asked me to be close by. I stood just out of sight and listened. He didn’t react violently, but he did do something interesting.

He repeated, “I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t.”

She did her best to assure him that it was his choice, and he’d say, “I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t.” Then he’d ask her what she thought he should do, and she’d repeat that she couldn’t choose for him, that it was his choice. And again he’d say, “I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t.”

This went on for, I’m guessing, FIVE STRAIGHT MINUTES. He couldn’t choose, she wouldn’t help. (She couldn’t help. I’m not blaming her for this. He was in a bind, he knew it; he wanted out of it, and she had no way of figuring out how to help without appearing to lead or coerce him. So she was in a bind too.)

I decided I’d stood there long enough, feeling sorry for them both. So I walked around the corner and “listened” for a couple of “I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t” rounds. Then I said:

“Look, man… you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t, right?”

“Yeah!” he said. Frustrated. Wanting help.

So I said, “Well, you might as well get it over with.”

He tilted his head, went inside for a second, nodded, grabbed the clipboard, and signed himself in.

The Social Worker was shocked, but didn’t say anything to me.

I’ll only point out to her, if she’s reading this, that I didn’t tell him which choice to make… I only suggested that he make one. Choosing to be committed would have been every bit as valid a response to my statement as signing himself in, and I would have found it every bit as respectable. The truth is, though, signing himself in was in line with his values and being committed was not, so he chose to sign.

Written by Michael DeBusk

September 24th, 2008 at 7:09 pm

Persuasive stuff from Psychology Today

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I don’t ordinarily pay much attention to Psychology Today magazine, but their RSS feed pointed me to a couple of articles on the basics of persuasion.:

Persuasion: Battle on the Car Lot:

How does a car salesman get you behind the wheel? By being a keen observer of human behavior—and not letting you say “no.”

Data Mine: From Persuasion to Impotence:

Bargaining techniques and making bad decisions: why smart women don’t want sugar daddies and how to avoid erectile dysfunction.

The second article is only partially about persuasion, but it has some good stuff about paraverbal and nonverbal framing. The rest of the article has to do with other good stuff. I especially appreciated the idea of group therapy for impotence (woohoo!) helping a man “hold his head up” <adolescent snicker> .

Written by Michael DeBusk

September 19th, 2008 at 11:49 am

Ticking off the pros, part two

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This story is much funnier when my friend Deb tells it because she’s the nurse who was involved. Because she couldn’t really see everything I was doing, she likes to exaggerate her level of frustration.

The patient was a rather large and muscular guy who looked as if he’d been in a few fights in his life. I’m not sure what he was doing, but the staff were quite intimidated. When I got there, he was sitting in one of the common areas, slouched in his chair, with a look of exaggerated indifference on his face. Deb was sitting at the opposite end of the table and talking to him with a great sense of reason in her voice. (It’s hard to describe the tone in more detail. Sorry.) I sat down at the table, too, in view of him but not her, and I slouched in my chair and put an exaggerated indifference on my face.

When she said anything I thought he should agree with, I’d shift my expression to “Well, that makes sense”, and then shift it back to mirror his.

(Deb would say something like, “I called him so he could help me, and all he did was sit there!)

And when I figured he and I were on the same wavelength, I yawned. A little noisily, but not loudly.

(Deb would nearly shout at this point in the story, “And then he started yawning! I’m trying to defuse a dangerous situation and he’s yawning!“)

I sat and listened and paced him for another minute and yawned again. And then he yawned too. I guess he got tired or something. No more fight in him. Shortly, he asked her if he could just go to bed.

As we walked out of the room, she gave me the “WTF did you do?!” look. I just shrugged.

Written by Michael DeBusk

September 17th, 2008 at 11:43 pm

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