August 26, 2010, 5:03 PM — If you're the suspicious type, you probably just assume that your boss is lying to you. Now, thanks to David Larcker and Anastasia Zakolyukina of Stanford's Graduate School of Business, you can know for sure.
In a paper titled "Detecting Deceptive Discussions in Conference Calls", Larcker and Zakolyukina reviewed the transcripts of nearly 30,000 conference calls by CEOs and CFOs over a 4-year span, looking for "linguistic features that predict 'deceptive' reporting of financial statements."
The Economist published this summary of the pair's findings:
Deceptive bosses, it transpires, tend to make more references to general knowledge ("as you know…"), and refer less to shareholder value (perhaps to minimise the risk of a lawsuit, the authors hypothesise). They also use fewer "non-extreme positive emotion words". That is, instead of describing something as "good", they call it "fantastic". The aim is to "sound more persuasive" while talking horsefeathers. When they are lying, bosses avoid the word "I", opting instead for the third person. They use fewer "hesitation words", such as "um" and "er", suggesting that they may have been coached in their deception.
How to tell when your boss is lying [The Economist]