Whatever business you’re in, you need to develop enhanced communication skills and get a good grasp of human behavior and get the truth out of people. Former Navy Intelligence Officer, DoD certified interrogator, published author, and TEDx speaker Lena Sisco is an expert in this field. Since 2003, she has been training clients from both the government and private sectors in interviewing, interrogation, body language, detecting deception, elicitation, leadership, and enhanced communication skills. More than just acquiring these incredible skills, what people get from her courses is a journey of self-discovery that turns them into better communicators, leaders, and humans. Join in as she gives some very juicy nuggets on this topic as she talks with Jennifer Whitacre.
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Beyond Words: Reading Human Behavior With Lena Sisco
A Journey Of Self-Discovery
I’m excited about my guest. I have Lena Sisco with us here. Lena is a former Naval Intelligence Officer and she is a Department of Defense Certified Interrogator. I met Lena when I did my first class in Body Language through the Body Language Institute. Lena teaches for them as well. Since 2003, Lena has been training the government, military law enforcement and the private sector in techniques on interviewing interrogation, body language, detecting deception, elicitation, leadership and enhanced communication skills. I also know that Lena loves animals, which is another thing that we have in common. I’m excited to have her on the show, and I will make sure because Lena is also an author and a TEDx speaker. Lena, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show. Welcome.
Thank you for having me.
I’m glad to have you here. I’m imagining that when people see you, they’re having a hard time getting their head around you being a Naval Intelligence Officer and a Certified Interrogator. I know for a fact that you’ve interrogated Al-Qaeda. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career to let the audience know who you are?
It is a story because where I am was completely unexpected and unplanned. Growing up, I wanted to be an archeologist. I watched Indiana Jones. I fell in love with him because who didn’t? I thought, “I want to travel the world and I love culture. I wanted to experience all that adventure.” I was determined to become an Archeologist. I did and I got my Master’s in it and I got to dig overseas, and it was amazing. I was in Tuscany in Greece and digging up Roman ruins. It was amazing. The thing was that something still wasn’t clicking. When I came back on my second day, I felt, “Look at the life I’m leading right now. Look at what I’m doing. I’m doing what I always wanted to do, but I don’t feel completely satisfied.” I kept asking myself, “Why not? What’s wrong with me? This is what I wanted to do.” I had a good friend in my hometown. I didn’t have a job after getting my Master’s degree at Brown. He’s like, “You could join the Navy Reserves and you get some extra money because they’ll pay you.” I thought, “Join the military? Are you kidding me? That’s never in my plan. I would never want to do that. Why would I do that?”
Every so often, every time we get together and go out, he would tell me a little bit more about what it entailed. Somewhere along the line, I got hooked and curious. He was in Naval Intelligence and like, “Think of James Bond. If you can’t be Indiana Jones, you could be James Bond.” I thought, “Maybe it still sounds adventurous, like any challenge. I still wanted to see the world and travel.” I said, “What the heck?” He got me into a recruiting office and I signed on the dotted line. I came in as attending E-3, which is low on the totem pole.
I didn’t even care because I didn’t know what that meant. I signed on for a six-year contract. It turned into eleven years only because at the point I was at, I got commissioned as an officer along the way. I loved what I did as an interrogator. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. That’s when I started doing something that resonated with me and I thought, “This is what I’m meant to do on this planet.” It’s to help people, to put bad people away and get the truth and protect good people. I thought, “This is it. I’m a people person.” Being an interrogator was like being an archeologist because as I’m going through stories and putting all these pieces of the puzzle together, I’m still using that analytical brain that I love when I was doing intelligence work.
All of this stuff like being an intel officer and an archeologist is very analytical. It’s dealing with people and I love working with people. I love animals too. I thought I finally found my niche. When I got trained, I got trained by the Marine Corps and I didn’t think I was going to make it through their training because they’re tough. Every week that we went to class, I thought I’m going to get dropped. They’re going to kick me out. Somehow it clicked and I loved the challenge. I graduated and thought, “When am I going to use it?” Lo and behold, 9/11 happened. It was 1.5 years after my training and then off I went to Gitmo that the time I spent in Gitmo is a lifetime of experiences.
I write about some of them in my first book, but I learned of a technique that I train now, which is a non-accusatory strategic interviewing technique. I train all of the law enforcement. My course is certified by the Department of Criminal Justice in Virginia. All law enforcement personnel attending can get time and service credit, and we are expanding. I have taught in North Carolina and New York and we’re hoping to take over the United States someday. It is a method that I started using while I’m in Gitmo because I thought there’s got to be something that attracts a person enough that they want to be able to talk to you. They want to trust you and they want to tell you the truth. I got trained in a whole bunch of approach techniques, some of which I thought were ridiculous to use because all I created was defensiveness and made people very angry. Why would I want that? I came up with my own technique. For all those times I have conducted hundreds and hundreds of interrogations and interviews, and I still do to this day, I developed a technique that I find extremely useful. It’s never failed me. That’s what I teach other people everywhere.
I have found your technique to be useful. Years ago when we met, when I was at Janine’s class at the Body Language Institute. I remember when you came in to teach your segment of the class, it was a three-hour segment. I got frustrated, not because of what you were teaching but because I couldn’t keep up writing down what you were saying. I was trying to hang on to every word. I was like, “This is good stuff. Holy crap.” It was one of my favorite parts of that whole week or weekend or that whole class.
Thank you. I’m retraining a couple of students virtually.
The training that I’ve received in body language has been life-altering and life-changing in how I communicate with others. Even more importantly in how I see myself. I’m wondering, did you have that as well? Did you notice a difference in how you communicate with others from all of this training? Can you talk to that a little bit?Don’t be afraid to fail. There is always room to learn. Click To Tweet
There is a huge difference. When I took Janine’s class to train the trainer class, I was already considered an expert in detecting deception and body language. I have been doing it for decades. I’m my motto is always to remain a student. You constantly have got to be learning, no matter life skills, interpersonal communication skills, leadership, special technical expertise, whatever it is, always learn. At that point, I felt a little stagnant and I was like, “I know what I know now I need to go find out what I don’t know.” I want to hear it from somebody who doesn’t have a background as I do. I’ve gotten all the training from the military in interrogation stuff and all that. I want something a little different. I want something in the private sector because I felt that time that I had a skill that was applicable to the private sector and to everyday civilians that I thought I need to be sharing these techniques with them. How do I go about doing it?
I want to point out to our readers because I talk a lot about how the mindset where we get stuck in judgment and the antidote to judgment is curiosity. Please focus on what this woman is saying about her approach to life. “I got stagnant. I needed to know what I didn’t know.” Get curious about your lives because that’s how you keep moving forward. That’s how you get out of that judgment and the judgment causes suffering inside of yourself. Please notice some of these things as she’s talking.
I love hearing from you. When I hear that from other people, it keeps my battery charged. I get frustrated like everybody else and there’s something like, “I’m done. I’m going to end here. I don’t know where to go.” I was like, “No, that’s not the attitude to have. Pause for a minute, give it a break, go play over here. Think about it, come back to whatever it is.” That challenge is also being willing to accept your failures. When I fail, it doesn’t bother me. It used to when I was younger. It would affect my whole being and my health. Now I’m like, “I’m human. If I’m not failing as something, I’m not learning good lessons from it.” It’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes, but I toughen up. I’m like, “I’m going to accept this. I’m going to make something positive out of it.” It’s that little power. Having no fear of the challenges, to risk everything, to try something new and to keep learning.
Right before I took Janine’s training, I thought, “I’m considered this expert. What if I fail out of her class? What if I go to her class and I’m horrible? Can I handle that?” I was like, “Don’t think about that. Why would you think about that now? Just go to the class and see what happens.” I went to her class and she did exactly what military training does. What I mean by that is she takes you. She’s not teaching body language and detecting deception. She is above and beyond that. She’s teaching you leadership skills, whether you know it or not. She’s teaching you how to be an amazing public speaker. She’s teaching you how to find your self-confidence. She’s teaching you not to be self-critical, but to build that inner strength to get in front of people and to go after your goals.
My goal at that point was to create my own company. I thought, “I need to use training to be able to push me, to be able to create and establish my own company and take my training with the private sector.” I can’t do it on my own. I don’t feel like I’m there. I need her help. I knew she was the person because I had watched many videos of her. I knew she was the person that was going to give me that little push. In her class, I show up. I’ve been teaching for decades. I feel I’m a good presenter, public speaking. I’m good at my technical expertise. When I got there, within the first nine hours of her class, I was like, “I’m horrible. What?”
My ego doesn’t land out. I was like, “Take a breath for a minute. Let’s find out what fits. How does she get inside my head? How did she do this?” I’ll never forget. There was one exercise she did with us. It was something about you had to convince her or be interesting in this topic. She’s preparing us to do keynote speaking events and we had two minutes to get this thing out. It was like a round-robin exercise. There were ten of us and everybody came up for two minutes and she’d kick you off. She’d be like, “Stop. It sucks. Go think about it and redo it.” I’m like, “What do I do? I’ll try this.” You go up and before you even open your mouth, like body language, “Go think about it.”
She taught me so much about myself and how I come across to others and what I should do, what I shouldn’t do. I’m finding that inner confidence and relating it to what I want to talk about. It was amazing. Those first couple of days, she beat me down like the military does, only to build you back up again. All of her training, which was back in the day when I went through, she was a little more hardcore. We had a class from 9:00 to 9:00, sometimes 10:00 at night.
That’s how the first round was when I went. It was from 9:00 to 9:00.
It was intense. At night, we would have to do so much homework and come in with these videos of us and everything else, and then 9:00 AM all the way to 9:00 or 10:00 at night again. She beat me down to the point that I was like, “I’m ready to learn.” What is this woman going to go and teach me about myself? She’s not saying, “Lena, this is what you have to learn by yourself.” She’s saying, “I told you to get out of your head. Stop being self-critical. Stop with the negative self-talk. Stop thinking, ‘I can’t.’ Change your mindset.” That’s what she did. She started to change our mindset to say, “I’ve got this. I can do this. If they can do it, I can do it. Now she’s giving me this method to do it. I’ll put it together and I’ll do it.” When you start doing that, you start climbing back up the ladder. By the end of that class, the light bulb comes on and you realize I had this within me the entire time and I needed someone to bring it up.
I had a similar experience in her class. Only at the end of my experience, she didn’t come to me and asked me to teach to be part of her class. I know she did that with you.
Talking about challenging ourselves, I went to her class and at that point, she was like a celebrity to me. I was like, “I’m going to meet Janine Driver. I am in her class.” I went into the class and I’ll never forget, I told my friends, “My goal by the end of this course is to learn something that I don’t know, but I want her to ask me to work for her.” Lo and behold, the last day, I give my final presentation. I couldn’t eat for the whole morning. We get the final presentation and I go outside of the room for my special debrief. It’s her and Chris and I forget who else was there. She sits me down and I’m thinking, “I did well.”
I felt good about it. I was like, “I nailed it.” I sit down and she’s like, “Let’s talk about this. You have been good. You’ve been a rock star up until now. Let’s talk a little bit about your presentation.” I thought, “It wasn’t up to par.” I’m like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” She goes, “There’s one question I need to ask you.” I’m like, “What?” “Can you come work for me?” I was about to fell out of my chair. I was like, “Are you serious?” Chris is laughing and I am like, “No, is this a joke? Are you serious?” She said, “Yes.”
I think she likes to do that. When she pulled me out for that little talk after my presentation, it was similar. It’s like, “We need to talk about this.” She said, “I need to start out by saying I would pay to see you speak.” The same thing, I almost fell off my chair because I was nervous. There was a man in my class. I’m sure you remember him. He’s from California, who was already doing keynote speeches and public speaking. I was right behind him in my presentation. I went into my presentation with this, “I can’t believe I have to follow Rob.” He was in both of my classes. We did the Train the Trainer. We did both of them together.
He’s a good presenter.
I followed him and my throat was in my stomach the whole time. I know we have talked a little bit about how much we’ve learned about ourselves from all of the training, body language, statement analysis, elicitation and micro-expressions, even the eye accessing cues. It has transformed. I can’t believe I even that first class, that 101 class, because I was at the height of my symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress when I took those classes. I had gotten out of the relationship with somebody who was one of the most masterful, I would almost say pathological liars I’ve ever met in my life. It spiraled downward into traumatic stress after that relationship ended. I told myself, “I’m never going to let this happen to me again,” which is why I sought out her classes. I found them and I’m like, “I’ve read her books.” I only knew she had one book. I found out about the second one and signed up and many tears. I was a basket case.
If you’re in that vulnerable state, you know where you are and then to allow people in to help you with one thing, that takes a lot of courage. Most people are like, “No, I’ll deal with it on my own. I don’t want help. I don’t want you to see how I truly feel now.” We put this guard up. The act of us going to people and allowing someone to help us is huge. That’s what happened to me too. I allowed her to help me, “You beat me down. I don’t feel like I can even teach a class again now.” I’m like, “Build me up. I’m ready.”
I went in already beaten down. That was especially hard.
That’s tough because her course is stressful, but then you find out how you handle stress, how you are under pressure, and dealing with everything that’s going on.
Tell me a little bit about what you’ve discovered about yourself and who you are from all of this training and what you teach now.
I’m going to say the biggest thing I took away from her class is not to be afraid to say, “I don’t know or I was wrong.” Never ever be afraid because show me one human being on this planet who’s always right and never been wrong. I don’t think one exists.
I can show you a lot who think they’re always right.
Nobody is. No one is, so have that voice to stand behind what you do and what you say. I call it being authentic. Those are the two main things I took away. Even when I teach, I tell people, I’m like, “This is what I’ve done for decades. This is what I teach. I’m considered an expert. However, there’s always room to learn. I’m still learning more about my tradecraft every day. I force myself to. Don’t be afraid to fail.” I will tell you, with hundreds of interrogations I have conducted, I wasn’t always on target. I didn’t always catch the lie. I didn’t always get the truth. It was close, but I didn’t always. When you can start being honest with yourself, people around you tend to be honest.Be authentic. That will attract openness and honesty in other people. Click To Tweet
You can show your true colors. Be authentic so people around you trust you more and like you more. Now you’re generating this energy of openness and honesty and that’s attracting people of the same caliber to come around and be around you. You’re attracting open and honest people. It’s like this ripple effect, but it has to start within you first. That’s the biggest takeaway I took from her is not being scared to say that you’re wrong, not being scared to fail. You don’t have to know everything. All of a sudden, you become very genuine and people know that you’re sincere, authentic, genuine, and that tracks people.
I did your online elicitation course and there’s one aspect of that class that impacted me more than others. Was it elicitation or the ABCs? I forget which class it was in because I’ve done two of them. The part where you talk about biases, that has been such a valuable learning tool for me about myself. It was something that I’ve been aware of biases and breaking it down into the six different ones is something that I’d forgotten about. It hadn’t been in my awareness until I did that class. I’m like, “I needed this reminder.”
My biggest hurdle is the halo and horns effect. I know when it’s happening and I stop myself because I’m aware of it. The biggest hurdle I have is when I do that first judgment and we’re going to judge people because it’s evolutionary. All of a sudden, they put a halo on you or horns. “If you look like something I don’t like, you’re bad. I don’t know you. Why would I even think that?” “If you look like me, sound like me, or like the same things I do, I put a halo on your head and now I automatically trust you. I don’t know who you are. Why would I trust you?” That’s a big one. I struggled with that when I was younger. I didn’t know what it was called. I didn’t even know it was the bias. When you can realize that, you identify when it’s happening and then you hit that pause button and clarify your thoughts and start looking at things more objectively.
I love that you keep saying hit the pause button because I tell my clients all the time whenever I do Facebook Lives or even on my show, “When you notice something, practice the pause and go inside. Get introspective about what is happening. What’s this about? Why am I assigning horns to this person or a halo to that person?” Start to dig deeper. That’s been such a valuable lesson. I feel like all of it is teaching basic life skills.
When you’re not taught it and when somebody doesn’t describe it to you or relate it to you within a story and you don’t hear it, how can you identify it? Many people go through life and they have not so positive interpersonal communication skills and they don’t know why. It’s because they haven’t identified it yet. They need a lot of training in communication, leadership, biases, thought war, all this stuff. All of a sudden, you’re like, “That’s why I tend to,” and then fill in the blank. You can start to change those reactionary behaviors. If they didn’t know about them, you can’t change them.
That’s why the body language classes have taught me so much about myself. One of the things that I’ve learned in my trauma training, I did a year-long class with Dr. Gabor Mate. He is masterful at teaching how to get beyond your perceptions, which is what Brene Brown calls, “The story you tell yourself.” If you get wrapped up in the story you tell yourself, then you’re not seeing the truth of the situation. That story you tell yourself as all perception. Being able to get beyond the perception to find out what is the truth that’s underneath of it is important. I know in body language, it’s not talked about in the same language and it’s also taught.
I’m training people to read body language, especially when it comes to detecting deception. When I teach them to read to identify indicators of deception, I’m also training them to identify indicators of truthfulness. They need to be able to look for the truth. If we’re only looking for deception, that’s all we’re ever going to see. Everything that we see or hear, we think, “A-ha, that’s a lie,” and comes to that bias twins. We have people that were talked to and somebody says, “Don’t trust that person. I don’t like that person.” We’re going to have a confirmation bias because when we talked to this person, we know that our friend doesn’t like them or trust them. We’re not going to trust them or like that. That’s perception and that lens that we see through it. It’s super hard for the human brain to always remain objective.
It is work. I have to work at it all the time. When I get into my interviews, even to this day, I hit the reset button as soon as I walk in the door, “Forget what you heard or all of this other stuff. Pay attention to this person, get to know this person, focus on your good questions, focus on. I can read their body language. If they’re stressed, if they’re nervous, any indicators of toothless and deception,” all of that. It’s a constant challenge not to be biased and not to have those perceptions. It’s easy to overcome when you know how to, but if you don’t know how to, they can totally cloud your judgment.
I learned this. I did a non-certifiable in NLP class, so I’m not certified even though I’ve studied NLP. I didn’t go through one of the appropriate channels. My NLP instructor used to say all the time, “Humans are meaning-making machines.” We are and that’s the problem because we give meaning to everything. We are the worst at cause and effect of being able to figure out an actual because and an actual effect. Humans will see a correlation and automatically jump to causation and create a whole story around it. That is a problem.
I’ve been trying to be much better. I can teach this stuff. I’m good. When it comes to my personal relationships, I’m not that great. It’s more work for me. I hit the pause button and instead of being reactionary and make up a story as to why he didn’t do or do something, instead I say, “Lena, if you want to find out the information, all you got to do is ask though in a non-accusatory way.” I tell people this all the time, especially with texting.
We get a text, I’m like, “Why didn’t I get that three hours ago? You’re only going to send me one sentence. I expected a whole paragraph at least.” Number one is getting rid of expectations on others. You can’t have them. If we stop expecting people to do and say things, it is going to make our lives a whole lot easier. Number two, don’t make up a story. I tell people in my training, even in my law enforcement and during interviews with criminals, “Don’t make up a story. All you have to do is ask the person.” I tell people, “Don’t tell a person what they did or why they did it. Ask them, ‘What did you do? Why did you do or didn’t you do it?’ Don’t tell a person how they feel. You’re only going to make a person go defensive.” I would never say, “Jennifer, you look angry.” Why would I say that? Instead, I ask the question, “Jennifer, how are you feeling today?” I can’t go into interrogations with, “You look angry, pissed off or happy about what you did.” No. “How are you feeling?” When we start to make up the story, have the perceptions, assign, tell people what they did, why they did it and how they feel, it’s not a good recipe.
In the classes, you and Janine said it, I’ve heard Chris said it, “It’s not about mind reading.” That’s where people go wrong. Even here in Ohio, we were having our Governor Mike DeWine. We were having wine with DeWine every day at 2:00. When we went into COVID for the press releases, that’s what we called it. I had to turn off the comments because somebody kept commenting and I was tempted to go off on her and I’m like, “No. Let it go, Jen. Turn the chat off.” When Dr. Acton would come on and give her updates, this one woman would kick in with, “She looked to the side. She’s lying. Look at her eyes.” I’m like, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You don’t know how to read body language.”
If you want to see hot spots and red flags, let’s go back to some of the other conspiracy theories and COVID-related videos that were going around. I watched a couple of those and there were many hotspots and tells that do I know 100% for sure whether they were lying or not? No, I don’t. I wasn’t in the room to ask them questions, but there were so many red flags, so much convincing and conveying language, so much power over language. You better believe me, like, “The emperor’s new clothes. If you don’t believe me, you’re a fool,” type of thing. Those types of tactics are all red flags and the attacks I got because I discerned that I didn’t believe it.
The unfortunate thing, for some reason, you can’t have an opinion because there’s going to be somebody that doesn’t like it and it’s going to want to attack you. When I posted a few things on Facebook one time, I went on people. I had posted something. I was taking a sailboat from Georgia to Norfolk during the two-week voyage, I was venting because COVID started. It was this brand-new thing. The governor of one of the states decided to close all the marinas. That means no fuel, no water. I can’t pump out. I’m like I need access to a marina. I’m two weeks on this voyage. I vented on social media and I shouldn’t have done that because that’s never a good thing. I will never do it again. I said, “How could they make a decision like this? It affects all voters who are now doing this.” In March, a lot of boaters go from Florida back up to Maine and wherever. Someone on my Facebook posted. She went, “Grow up, Lena.”
I was angry and I wanted to retaliate back, but I thought, “Why? There’s no use. I don’t know her. She doesn’t know me. Why would I let the stranger make me so upset?” I politely reply, “Anne, I know you’re more respectful than that and I appreciate you being respectful to me and everybody else on this site. Thank you.” I never heard from her again. Having that inner strength to not be reactionary to pause, to think about it, and to say something good. Going back to my story with COVID and of course what happened in the news with the cop, people are on edge.
One of the things I teach and I talk about a lot is our different power centers. A lot of different traditions will talk about shockers. I don’t like shockers because I see power centers a little bit different from shockers. When we go into survival mode, I also study archetypes and learning. The language of the soul, the language of the divine, or the unconscious is symbolism and archetypes are symbolism. It’s giving me a better understanding of myself. One of my teachers that I learned from talks about if you imagine yourself or your spiritual self as a building if you’re on the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd floor, the ground floor, you see the street. You see across the street or you look down and you see to the end of the block, or as far as you can see, but you go up a level when you have a different perspective.
If that first floor is our first power center, the second floor is the second power center and so on. Those first three floors are where we get into our tribal thinking and we get into our survival mode. Many people shoot right down into their survival mode. The archetypes that come out in our survival mode or survival family is the victim, the saboteur, the prostitute, and the inner child. Those are the survival family of archetypes. I am seeing that everywhere and people going back into their tribal thinking. When I say tribal thinking, it’s not about Native American tribes, actual tribes or tribal land. It’s a groupthink, it’s the hivemind and at the tribe, you have to think the same way as the tribe or you’re going to be cast out.
That goes back to our primal beliefs. If we’re cast out of the tribe, that’s our survival. It brings up that subconscious fear. It’s not in our conscious awareness. Once you get above that third floor and you start to see from some of the higher perspectives and you get the big picture, you can see from that 360-view on the top floor, on the roof, then it’s hard to crash back down into those lower floors. With COVID and the whole police killing of George Floyd, I was there for about a week and I was able to pull myself back up. I was like, “Some of the stuff I said and did, I can’t take it back.” Now it’s okay, stay up here, rise above it and move on because there’s a lot of bickering and looking back. My whole attitude is, “What’s happened has happened. How can we reformulate things to move forward?” I am all on board with restructuring things moving forward. With the bickering about looking back, I’m having a hard time staying in that.
It’s hard to be in the present. That’s all mindfulness too. It’s focusing now. If we are too worried about the future and we’re dwelling on the past, we’re not right here and we’re missing everything that’s happening. We’re not going to make wise decisions because we’re focused on the future, worried about the past. I’m huge in communication. Whenever I’m teaching a body language class or interrogation class, it’s detecting deception, class elicitation, I always start off every single class with awareness. I have awareness check tests. I make people check their level of awareness, self, and situational. That is a part of it. The biases, the perceptions, the assumptions, the being fully present, all of that needs to be in check before you can go on to learn anything about body language, anything about interviewing, or detecting deception. You have to clear your mind of clutter and allow it to open up. I call opening the aperture so you can be more aware and objective awareness.
I love that you do the awareness aspect of your classes because I’m one of those woo-woo people on one aspect of who I am who believes that we have more than five senses. The five senses that we learned about in school are our tactile 3D senses for this world like sound and sight or like distance senses. It smells a little bit of a distance, but everything else has to be closer. We also have other senses that we don’t learn about. We have our instinctual sense. We have our intuitive sense, which is different. We have our emotional sense. We have our spiritual senses about us, and awareness and the way that you teach it is what helps us get in touch with those senses that we don’t know how to talk about, but we know we have. They’re also important in building in the trauma classes that I do. We call it safety, attunement, and rapport. I’ve heard you use rapport, but safety and attunement are important because if the person you’re talking to doesn’t feel safe, they are not going to tell you the truth and they’re not going to want to talk to you. They’re going to completely close off.
It’s funny because one of my techniques is to create a safe environment. That’s my whole method of interviewing comes from is creating that safe environment. You can convince that person to feel comfortable. When they feel comfortable, they’re going to start to trust you. When you gain that trust, now the truthful information comes to it because they’re going to start to open up. If that person does not feel safe, you’re not going to get anywhere.
If the person doesn’t feel safe, you’re more likely to get what’s called the fond response than you are actual honesty. The fond response is not well-understood yet in the larger society. We know about fight, flight or freeze. Fight and flight or sympathetic activation. Freeze is a little bit different. People like to lump the three together, but physiologically what’s happening in the body is a little bit different than sympathetic activation. There’s the fond response, which is when let’s say a woman is being attacked or in the process of being sexually assaulted. A lot of times that’s an inescapable attack. If it’s an inescapable attack, fighting’s not going to work. Fighting and fleeing are not options. Freezing, that can be an option. Fond is the other option where women sometimes will say things that are held against them in court. Like, “Yes, I like that. Please keep doing that.” It’s a negotiation for life. That’s why one thing where I see a little bit of a gap in the process, I don’t think a lot of interrogators are trained and it’s relatively new and it’s important to train them. How do you know if the person you’re talking to is being deceptive like an Amy Cooper or in the fond response, if they’re saying what they need to say because all they want to do is get out of this situation where they feel their life is in danger?Stop expecting people to do and say things. It’s going to make your life a whole lot easier. Click To Tweet
I go through a whole segment about how to avoid false confessions and that’s it. Many times, people falsely confess. Other people are like, “That’s incredible. I can’t believe someone would say they would kill someone because they were tired or whatever.” No, it’s a legit thing. The Innocence Project has proven many people that are in a sense through DNA testing who may have been falsely invested or wrongfully convicted. That’s a huge thing to identify.
It’s important because if we can recognize it ourselves, it’s much easier to recognize in another person. It’s whenever we only recognize things in other people that it becomes judgments rather than connection.
We haven’t done it, so we don’t know. It makes total sense. When I go through my classes, it’s huge to remain objective. I tried to tell people it’s going to be so much work, but you cannot be subjective about anything. You can’t judge. You can’t have the biases, the expectations. You can’t have assumptions. You can’t make up a story because of all of that clouds are what is there. That truthful information that you are seeking, the intent, the motivations, the everything behind it you will never get if all of that junk is right here.
I’m curious, as you were learning all of these techniques, what were your biggest challenges? What were the things where you’re like, “I can’t do this?” All of us who are considered specialists or experts in something, we go through that. You’re like, “I can’t do this.” On the hero’s journey, it’s the resistance to it all.
I don’t know how to answer that. I will tell you that the more I get into the psychology behind interviewing, the more I get into the sociopaths and dealing with pathological liars, dealing with people who are experiencing trauma, the more I find out, the more I don’t know. I’m like, “I’m teaching this class, but I don’t know how to use specific techniques with people who are experiencing trauma.” I don’t know this, even talking to you, I’m like, “That’s one nugget that I haven’t mastered yet. Can I master it? Can I learn enough about it to incorporate all this stuff in?” Interviewing, especially in my classes, it is a method that I have, but there’s so much more information still coming in out there. That’s what I haven’t mastered. There’s more I can bring to the table. There’s more I need to learn, especially law enforcement that I’m teaching. It worries me. I guess that would be my biggest hurdle.
When I took your elicitation class, I remember thinking to myself, “I’ve been doing elicitation my whole life, especially the provocative statements, only where I recognize it in myself when I look back is I used it to manipulate.” I grew up with a lot of abuse in my childhood household. I learned at a young age how to be like my parents, which was manipulative, passive-aggressive, rage, full of outbursts. I learned all of that from a very young age. Manipulation became part of who I was when I came into adulthood. When it came to my attention, that was part of my bottoming out in my complex post-traumatic stress. I realized I am all these things that I abhor in people.
I embody that and how can I get that out of me? I don’t do this anymore. I can start to like the person that I am. I’ve had a little bit of a challenge with the provocative statements and realizing that I do that. I need to turn it around and use it for something positive rather than manipulation, which I used to do in my 20s and 30s. I was already on the path to change that pattern in myself. I don’t know that I would have fully come to the conscious awareness had I not eventually taken your class and elicitation. It brought it to the forefront of my awareness, whereas it was in the background, but I hadn’t quite put two and two together yet. It’s amazing how all of this work, wherein our minds as the public, we hear about interrogators from what we see on TV and the good cop, bad cop and slamming your fist on the table.
I will say, I trained in that. I call it Mutt and Jeff. It’s ridiculous. It is a Hollywood TV. In real life, you should not be doing that. It’s not an approach that I back or that I use. I’m all about creating a safe environment. That does not create yourself in a safe environment.
I also understand too that there are average everyday people like you and me who lied, but then there’s this other category of powerful liars. I have never interviewed a powerful liar to my knowledge. What’s the difference in your approach? I imagine that there has to be a difference in approach if you’re going to get a powerful liar to be honest.
A pathological liar does not mean you’re good at lying. It means that you don’t care about lying. You’re not going to get stressed out and nervous because instead of worrying about the lie and the consequences, you’re focused on the reward of the lie. There’s no stress going through your body. Nothing’s been triggered, your stress response system hasn’t been triggered. Cortisol is not going up. I can’t see here any physiological responses to stress. That’s the key ingredient that I’m missing. My regular liars, it’s easy for me. You’re already stressing out right in front of me. Pretty soon it’s going to affect your cognitive ability. Everything’s going to unravel and you’re going to give up because it’s too much stress and pressure.
Powerful liars don’t have that same amount of stress and anxiety because they’re focused on, “If I get away with the slide, I don’t go to jail. I get more money. I get the job I wanted. I get to hurt this person I don’t like.” Whatever it is, that’s what they’re focusing on. You can still catch them in lies because they’re not good at lying. Even though I may not be seeing the physiological responses to stress or picking up on some nonverbal indicators, your words will dime you out every single time. I do state it in the analysis. I pay attention to every word that people tell me. As you’re speaking to me, I jump my internal voice off and I pay attention only to what you’re saying. I analyze everything.
Within your words, you will leak indicators of deception. At that point, I can come out to say, “You’re lying.” At that point, with a powerful liar, because usually, a powerful liar wants to talk about whatever they want to talk about, not the lie. They want to convince you and they’re going to be overly polite and all of that. I feed their ego and I use a little bit of the flattery, you could say elicitation techniques with them. I don’t ask any questions. It’s all narrative statements. I’m guiding the conversation, unbeknownst to them, but I’m guiding it and I’m transitioning through it. Eventually, I’m going to lead you to the part that I think is a lie. I’m going to ask for those details and a whole bunch of other techniques that I have to start to unravel a whole entire story.
At some point, I’m going to come present that to you. In a respectful way, I present it to that powerful liar. I had a lot. When I worked on the TV show for three years. In Couple’s Court, a lot of my litigants were powerful liars, “Nobody’s going to catch me in my lie. I’ve been doing this for years. I’m too good.” I feed their ego. I become their best friend. I exploit the similar to me bias, and so they like me more. They trust me more and then they start talking, and then oops, accidentally say something they shouldn’t.
Statement analysis has been incredibly valuable.
Statement analysis is one of my favorite things. In my opinion, it’s accurate in detecting deception because people think about their body language. When you’re lying, you’re like, “I have to control my body language. I can’t do this. I have to look at them. I’m pretty normal.” I’m like, “You can try to control your bottom line.” What people don’t try to control is their words. They may try to control what they said, but the words, they don’t think about controlling and it’s words where your lie comes up.
That was hard for me to get my head around. At first when I first did that online class in statement analysis. I’m like, “I don’t see what’s wrong here.” Now I can go back a few years later and look at all of the material from that class. It’s a lot clearer. It takes practice. I didn’t realize how much I retained from that class because I walked away feeling like a complete failure. Every passing month or every passing year, it retains and grows. I may go back and repeat that.
You have to baseline. Even the bottom line, would you read body language? You toe the baseline on the verbal indicators because I need to know your rate of speech. I need to know what your pet words are. One indicator is when a person tries to convince you, instead of saying no, they say never. It’s a convincing technique. The problem is sometimes students say never because they say never. I’m one of those people. Never for baseline work. I say it for everything, so you can’t use that one for me. As you’re baselining a person for a few minutes, get a feel for how they sound, their rate of speech, the pitch of their voice, and the pet words or terminology that they tend to use. There was this one video. I did a podcast and I was to assess two videos. There was this one guy. He was accused of killing somebody and they were questioning him. He kept answering every single question, “No, never.” To us, that’s a convincing technique, but that was his baseline. He answered pertinent questions, “No, never.” He answered non-pertinent questions, “No, never.” I had to toss that one out. I’m like, “No, go on to the next one.” What else do I see here?
That’s a big thing that amateurs overlook. I remember I read Janine’s book years before I took her class. When I read her book, I was one of those people who came away from it thinking from a couple of things I retained and learned from it that I can detect deception from it.
It’s a big learning group. It’s a lot of information and you’re constantly having to baseline and analyze. The more effort and times you do it and the more work you put into it, it becomes second nature.
That’s what I’ve discovered too, is it does become second nature. Tell our readers where they can find you. I highly recommend her online classes.
It’s a website. I host all my online training through Thinkific. It’s TCG, which stands for my company name, The Congruence Group, TCG.Thinkific.com. There are four courses up there. I have an Elicitation Train-the-Trainer. I have an introductory Elicitation course. I have the ABCs of Human Interaction, Awareness, Language and Communication. I have a quick one-hour course on resolving conflict. Coming soon is going to be my Rebel Program, which is going to be a seven-week course. That brings you everything from establishing rapport to baselining, to nonverbal and verbal, to questioning techniques, all of that. It’s what my first book is about, the You’re Lying book. I’m going to have a course on statement analysis and verbal indicators and then on body language. Three courses coming up. They’re in the works.
I can’t wait for the statement analysis because the only one I’ve done in the past was Mark McClish’s.Be patient with yourself. You're going to make mistakes. As long you keep working to be a better human being, you're in the right place. Click To Tweet
He created statement analysis. He’s amazing. I would rather do a good statement analysis at night than watch a movie. I love it that much. I do it 24/7. I’ve done it on all my litigants, all my interviews, and all my interrogations. People ask me to go through stuff.
I’ve been watching our updates from our mayor and I’m doing statement analysis as he talks. Everyone’s like, “This sounds great.” I was like, “What the hell does he mean by a meaningful civilian committee? Does meaningful mean they’re going to have the authority to do anything?” Saying that we may require concessions from the Ohio FOP. What does may require mean? What about absolutely require? I’m like, “He’s weasely.” Come on, people.” Those little words make a big deal. He’s not saying what meaningful means, but he keeps saying a meaningful civilian committee.
I tell you the one indicator and I’ll share this with the readers. Number one indicator that is accurate is when people stop dropping off personal pronouns, I and my, and they start replacing them with every other pronoun, us, we, the, you, them, it doesn’t matter. That means somebody doesn’t want to take accountability for what they’re saying. If you think back to the Anthony Wiener scandal back in the day, whenever he was asked, “Anthony, did you send the tweet?” First of all, never say no. That’s an indicator. Number one, you can’t say no because he doesn’t want to commit to a lie. People hate lying. I know people were like, “There’s no way.” I know people love to lie. Inherently, human beings don’t like to lie. Nobody wants to convince you to lie. The second thing is nobody wants to gain any responsibility for the lie. It’s all a sign of where you’re trying to figure out who sent it. We are working out. When you find it. It’s never, “I’m trying to figure out who sent it.” He sent it. He knows this. Whenever I stop hearing I and my, my ears perk right up.
He’s using distancing too in his speeches. I’m like, “I don’t believe him. I don’t believe a word he says.” There is already a petition around Columbus with more than enough names requesting that he resign and he won’t even pay attention to it.
I don’t know who this individual is. I should probably watch more news, but it’s depressing these days that it comes on and it makes me feel anxious and I don’t want to feel that way.
I notice it because I live here in Columbus and we have a troubled history with CPD and excessive force and brutality in our history. Out of the top 10 worst cities on per capita killings of people of color, we’ve got three of them. Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. Columbus is number one, last I heard. I’m not sure if that statistic is correct. I haven’t fact-checked this statistic. I saw and I need to go do that. If that’s true, we have issues. I could imagine it would be hard to keep up with every news outlet in the nation with what’s happening now. I’ve been paying attention locally.
I try to plug into my local news so I’m not ignorant because that’s in a way to be either. I want to know what’s going on. When it gets into people wanting to vent, that’s when I’m like, “Give me the facts. I want to hear the facts. I don’t care about anything else.”
I miss the news that was just the facts when I was a little kid.
I want to say I heard it on our local news station. “A good news story Friday,” or something like that. I’m like, “That’s sad that we have to designate one day for something good.” I’m thinking, “It’s depressing.”
I have a hard time watching the news too. It’s scripted. I read it. I don’t watch it anymore. I’d rather put my own tone of voice into what I’m reading rather than have that chosen for me.
When I was down in Gitmo interrogating and I was down there between 2002 and 2003 and I’ll never forget this. It was September 11th, a year after 9/11. We all gathered at 7:00 AM at the flagpole on CDC Hills and we’re having a memorial service for 9/11. We’re all in formation, have a moment of silence and the news reporters from Time Magazine and a couple of others, I can’t remember exactly who, but news reporters were on the island. They took pictures of us and this is the craziest thing. It still makes me mad. They reported that we were gathering to discuss secret interrogation techniques on the detainees.
We were gathering for a moment of silence to honor everybody who died in 9/11. When I was down there and I would read about all this stuff, which were complete lies at that point, I was like, “I’m not watching the news. How can I watch it when I know they support a blatant lie?” Even when I got subpoenaed seven years later and I had to go down for the first military war tribunals and I was a prosecution witness for a couple of famous detainees that were going on right down there. I was reported by all the news reporters in the backroom as saying things I never said. At that point, I was done. I knew this because I was there. Look at all the millions of people who believe the news coming in that are blatant lies. They don’t know any better. Where are they going to get their information? They can’t get the information anywhere else. They weren’t there. All we have to go by is the news. It’s a sad place. I’m not saying everything’s out. What does this? Of course not. What I experienced those years ago that multiple media outlets supported blatant. How did they get away with that?
They do and they have for a long time. It’s terrifying. I don’t know many people who have been interviewed or had encounters with news media, newspapers who haven’t walked away going, “That’s not exactly what I said. They distorted or they took out of context,” or, “They left an important part of the conversation out and they only reported half of the conversation to skew it for a certain spin.” That’s important to keep in our mind and how quickly we forget when we see that story.
I tell people that sex sells. They want something sexy. They want violence. They want something that’s going to stir up emotions. They crave that reaction to an act. I have a friend. She’s a life coach. She talks about how chemicals in our body, when they released or in certain things, create stress. I don’t know enough science behind it, but it sounds completely plausible. If we’re craving stress and we’re craving something negative, we’re craving something that’s going to get us out from the news. People watch it and you get higher ratings and there you go.
The average person isn’t well-educated in this. There’s such a thing as a behavioral addiction. Most people aren’t aware of behavioral addiction. Chronic complaining, chronic gossiping, those are forms of behavioral addictions, and people don’t realize it. We also get addicted to certain illusions and perceptions. I believe that we have been addicted to this illusion of stability in the world around us. Since COVID started, we are seeing a collective withdraw because it very much is the emotional chaos that people go through whenever they withdraw from any type of addiction. It’s not the same thing as substance because you don’t have the physical reactions and the sweating, the vomiting, and all of that. However, there is a withdrawal process and we are all going through the withdrawal of addiction to the illusion of security and safety in the world around us and stability and constancy. We know logically that life can change in the blink of an eye.
When it happens, look at the resistance and the disbelief of it. Yet, it’s happened. It’s happened with the economy, it’s happened with COVID, it’s happened with the Black Lives Matters movement. All of this stuff is changing in the blink of an eye. For a lot of people, the Black Lives Matters movement hasn’t changed fast enough. For a lot of other people who are initially waking up to it. This is life-changing in the blink of an eye. Two vastly different perceptions. How do we balance that out? It’s two totally different experiences in the world and multiples in between.
When you don’t understand it, you can get frustrated over that and it causes more anxiety.
I hope some of the readers out there like get their interest piqued and do some of your classes because it is life-changing. Not only does it give you better skills to communicate and have a relationship with anybody. It also gives you a much deeper understanding of yourself and that is priceless.
It’s a journey in self-discovery as I call it. It never ends.
I know you’ve got the contact form on your website so people will be able to get in touch with you if they need to. Lena, before we wrap up, do you have any final tips or techniques to leave with our readers?
I would want to tell everyone to trust yourself, be patient with yourself. You’re only human. You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to say and do things that you didn’t intend to or you shouldn’t have. As long as every day you keep working to be that better human being, then you’re in the right place. A lot of that comes with having the courage to go out and seek advice from other people. Learn more about yourself, take some training that you never thought you could, do something that you never thought you could. In all of that, you keep growing as a human. That’s the most critical thing that we can focus on.
Thank you, Lena. It’s been an honor to have you on the show.
Thank you. I love seeing you again.
I love seeing you too. Thanks.
For all of our readers out there, please look me up. You can find me on Spotify. You can find me on iHeart Radio. I’m on Apple Podcasts. Please subscribe and join the show. If you found this information helpful, please share it with others because that’s how you can change the world. Sharing valuable information can help people improve themselves, improve their lives, and that has a spillover effect. It improves the lives of others in the process. I will see you all next time.
- Lena Sisco
- Body Language Institute
- Dr. Gabor Mate
- The Innocence Project
- You’re Lying
- Mark McClish
- Spotify – Yes, And… Podcast
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- Apple Podcasts – Yes, And… Podcast
About Lena Sisco
Lena Sisco is a former Navy Intelligence Officer and DoD certified interrogator. Since 2003 she has been training the government, military, law enforcement, and the private sector in interviewing, interrogation, body language, detecting deception, elicitation, leadership, and enhanced communication skills.
Lena is a published author, TEDx Speaker, and Expert Witness on the TV Show Couples Court. She is also a guest speaker for the International SPY Museum and featured in their Martar Hari exhibit.
Lena has trained and keynote spoke around the globe and is internationally recognized as an expert in her field. Today, Lena is the President & Founder of The Congruency Group, where people in numerous industries can focus their training on enhanced communication skills, interviewing and interrogation, advanced deceptive analysis, elicitation, and leadership competencies.
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