How to spot a liar in three easy steps

I’m mad. The kind of mad where you think dark vengeful thoughts, mad. The kind of mad that makes you want to shake people, hoping some semblance of common sense falls loose, mad. The kind of mad that wishes like my dad said all the time, that “people would use the common sense the Good Lord gave them”.

Someone close to someone I’m close to, lied about something. Subsequently got caught, lying. The kind of get caught lying where you find your children holding the cookie they swear they didn’t take as the moist crumbs fall from their lips, lie. The kind of lying that has nothing short of a celestial constellation confirming the lying, lie. A stained blue dress in the White House, kind of lie.

I know all about liars, because I used to be a very good one. Some people talk about being alcoholics or drug addicts before they accepted Christ. My drug of choice was lies. I could weave stories and tales with plots whose plots had sub plots…with imaginary characters whose friends had imaginary friends. I could anticipate your next questions and already have several responses warming up in the batting cage of my mind’s eye. Like all good liars though, you slip up that one time, and get caught. I’m not ready to write about what happened that night. Suffice to say it brought me to my knees, and while He left a great many things to work on with me over the course of my life – the Lord took my taste for lying away right after my prayer. I can remember times afterwards at work where my boss in NY would ask me to tell a customer something that wasn’t “quite” true. I’d just stare back at him with this dumbfounded headlight deer look. Eventually he’d walk away and make the white lie call himself.

One of the interesting side effects of my past though, is the innate ability to spot a liar. I call them “Charismatic Men”. Some people can tell you what wine to eat with what fish or what cheese. I can tell you whose conning someone, and what they’re end game is. It’s less of a blessing and more of a curse, actually. When I sit in movies that I’ve paid a lot of money to see, I can usually see the ending in my mind a few minutes into the beginning of the film. In the same sense, when I met the person that is causing my friend so much grief as of late, I could see their game playing out in intimate fast forward detail. Less of a blessing, and more of a curse. But a gift nonetheless.

Here are 3 ways to detect a “Charismatic Man” from 100 yards away and save yourself the type of heartache they’re going through right now.

1. They present a “foolproof” formula for success. I’ve gone through 3 generations of Charismatic Men in my life, and in every instance each of these men from the onset of our walk together presented a time-and-time-again-true-and-tested-turnkey formula. Do “A” watch “B” and “C” happen which then leads to a dizzying “D”. It’s the kind of conversation that’s reminiscent of a Time Share Presentation.

You’re brought somewhere where that formula is playing out in full ‘Technicolor”. They point to this or that and say, “we started out with just a little, and look where it’s gone almost entirely on it’s own”. Just imagine what we could do with just a little bit more”.  What you don’t realize is that everything from the grass you’re standing on to the sky above you has been prearranged for this very moment. In some cases, the things you’re seeing and experiencing had nothing to do with the Charismatic Man. They take credit for it though.

Picture for example someone taking you to a park, who claims to be an exercise guru. There’s a group of healthy people doing exercises in the center of the park, when one of them breaks away from the obviously in shape group and comes over to you and the ‘guru’. They spontaneously share how their life was changed by the guru’s techniques. They wish there was a way for everyone to hear what they have to say, they tell you, as they run back to the exercise group. This makes you feel good – nearly orgasmic about the investment you’re about to make with the guru.

What you don’t know is that of the 40 people exercising, the person you just spoke to is a ‘plant’ in the group…an exercise group that has nothing to do with the guru…maybe a group of cancer survivors that meets monthly in the spring to exercise and advertises in the local paper for people to come join them. The Charismatic Man knows you don’t know this, but takes credit for something large and huge that they had little actual involvement in. It impresses you though, and serves the larger purpose. In their mind – they’ll have something big like this group someday, with your support, which justifies this one little lie (misunderstanding).

I met a man named Sean who pulled this type of “misdirection” off with RV Campers. Using the RV campground he was working at (didn’t own or have any vested interest in) he convinced hundreds of people to purchase stakes in a “new and exciting” RV campground he was building in northern North Carolina. He used the RV campground he was working at as an example of how good he was, and how great the next place would be. Truth was he had very little to do with the first campground, but he would take credit for every little detail, including the old fashioned “Coke” signs and the way the Country Store was laid out. What people didn’t know at the time was that every other piece of his “big deal” hinged on something else happening. It was the worst kind of house of cards. Charismatic Men can do that though…juggle multiple story lines and suckers until one breaks…which leads to the deal eventually closing as everything else dependent on the first break, kicks in. In the end, Sean moved out of the state, divorced and bankrupt, to Washington. Last I heard, he was involved in a new Telecommunications start up. . . it was going to be “big”.

2. They appeal to your sense of worth, and make you feel ‘special’.  When I met Rod, a mattress factory owner, I was in a pretty “un-special” place. I’d spent 15 years in a dead end job, and was trying at the time to launch a company of my own together with my best friend. When Rod told me one day during a lunch that he would have plenty of money soon, and would need to invest some of it in other companies, I started feeling special. He had my curiosity piqued. He proceeded to tell me about a mission – one that would allow him to support missionaries and churches all over the world. Like how he was going to support our little growing company. He just needed some help to get things started. And was I interested?

For the next year and a half, I did more work for Rod than I’d do in any 40 hour week for my NY employer. For free. I researched and analyze trading software. I learned information about the markets and taught myself to trade. I started taking that information and channeling it to Rod, who I could hear was trading my advice over the phone in his office, and making money. I had no idea that he was using that information to impress people in his office enough to give them their money, and get his own “campground” house of cards running, in the form of an investment fund.

In every experience I’ve had with a Charismatic Man- they make you feel like you have an important role to play in a mission that has world changing consequences. There’s a promise that you’ll be paid or reimbursed or rewarded for your help. There’s just this one “little thing” that you need to do for them to help jump start things. In the case of Sean, it was preparing killer Power Point presentations and contacting dozens of land owners. For Rod, it was paying for my own trading education and giving him high probability, highly distilled trading recommendations. In each case – the promise of a big payoff, if only you’ll just help them get started.

3. They never give you something for nothing. I was approached 1 1/2 years ago by Nigel, who wanted me and my business partner to take over his online software company and do all of the marketing and sales for him. He wanted us to take over his business, in effect, as he was getting older and wasn’t as excited by all the work that being an online entrepreneur involved.  As we got closer and closer to making a deal though, Nigel went back on almost every promise he’d made to us in the beginning, changing the deal at least a few times, each time. One phone call, he informed me that he’d received quite by chance an email contact list of qualified day traders – that could be used for marketing and sales.  Smelling his Charismatic-Man-ness, I asked him to forward us a copy to use for our own business, as a show of good faith if you will. I’d caught him in a slip up of sorts, and wanted to see what he’d do with something that had cost him absolutely nothing to pass along to me.

Nigel, accused my partner and I of blackmail. He was certain my request indicated the bankruptcy of our own morality, and the black depths of our own personalities. I insisted however that passing along the list he’d receive for free would allow us to recoup some of the losses we’d incurred losing sales while we were preparing to take over his business. A very reasonable request. It enraged him though, that we would ask anything in return for being part of this new big dream….angered him to have any type of accountability or power sharing.

2 years later, the people that Nigel got to take over his company, walked away from the venture after building the company up to a new level of efficiency. They just left. And I suspect I know why.  We’d learned in that span of time that he’d done the same thing to other companies and men in the past that he’d done to them, and tried to do to us. He had even allegedly stolen his primary customer marketing database by hacking one of his partner company forums to the tune of 15,000 emails.  He’d allegedly  (I have to write allegedly for legality’s sake) stolen his software concepts from other vendors online, and re-marketed them as his own. When I told Nigel, “thanks but no thanks” 2 years prior, I had a sense that we’d done the right thing, long term, even though it might cost us a short term gain in sales.

The worst part about these types of Charismatic Men, is that some people give themselves completely over to the lie. Even after they found out what Sean had done, the people who’d invested in his Campground scheme fell prey to his “nice Christian man” persona and just blamed bad luck. When Rod’s ponzi scheme went down, his own Pastor (a man who’d funneled customer after customer from the church to Rod) was in denial about the extent of the damage, insisting nothing evil had transpired….that it was just a “misunderstanding”.  Nigel, when caught in his lie, turned it back on us and accused us of being “un-Christian” men…of being hypocrites and blackmailers. Some people believe him, to this day, despite everything they know about us, and him.

That’s the final hallmark of a Charismatic Man, I think. An unrelenting tiny fan club of people who are so immersed in the con, and the game, that to admit something ‘smells fishy in Denmark’ reflects poorly back on themselves.

To admit that they – intelligent people –  got conned into something is almost unbearable, and so they plod forward with their personal-Bernie-Maddoff, into a ‘denial sunset’ of sorts, so long as there’s an ounce of hope left. Chanting ever so quietly, “It was just a misunderstanding…”

I hurt for my friend. But I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that discovery. I know that sometimes you just need that one person to come alongside you and say, “Yeah, this sucks, but I believe you”. So that’s what I’m going to do. And it’s enough….despite what the “angry” voices in my head want to do to the guy’s tires….

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One Response to How to spot a liar in three easy steps

  1. Stephanie Jones says:

    Very well our, Michael. I have been one AND encountered many of these “Charismatic Men”. Like you, God has pulled me out of my own pit if being one of those peeps (haha…we’re both Yanks – wonder where that plays in). I tend to see these folks as well so have high antennas out. And yet, I cannot keep my own family safe from them. AUGH! So I pray…

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