Police Kill Teenage Boy: Negligence or Necessary? 1

 By Chris Simmons


On May 24th, a Purcellville [Virginia] police officer shot and killed Christian Sierra – a depressed High School student they had been summoned to help.

The 17-year old was at a neighbor’s house when he began threatening suicide. He subsequently cut himself and the police were called. Armed with a knife as he stood alone in the street, Sierra lunged at the first police officer to arrive. The officer responded by shooting and killing the boy.

Why wasn’t non-lethal force used? The police have several non-lethal tools available for use – the old-school nightstick, an ASP – a solid steel expandable baton ranging in length from 16-26 inches, tasers, pepper spray, and so forth.

In my opinion, in this encounter, the police officer CANNOT claim self-defense. The officer knew Christian Sierra was armed with a knife before exiting the safety of the police cruiser. Given the array of non-lethal weapons readily available for use, the troubled teen could have been quickly and safely subdued.

It is important to understand that by drawing his/her weapon, the officer actually raised the probability of a fatal encounter. Psychologically, aiming a gun at a knife-wielding individual often prompts the person’s “Freeze, Fight, Flight” response to favor the Fight option. In general, the escalation spiral will have already rendered the Freeze/surrender option highly unlikely. Flight is not an option as many individuals believe a police office will shoot them even if they turn and run. Thus, to survive, a person may feel they must attack.

In a gun vs. knife scenario, the psychological dynamic can be very deceptive. A knife-wielding individual might envision four possible outcomes:  the police officer could freeze and not fire, the officer might miss, the individual could be wounded, or he/she could be killed. Fueled by adrenaline, it becomes easy for an emotional individual – or in this case, a troubled teenager, to misjudge the likelihood of a favorable outcome.

Contrast that thinking against the very accurate psychological response when non-lethal force is clearly going to be used. Witnessing an officer extend a two-foot long ASP, a knife-wielding individual will likely conclude that the officer will disarm them by using the metal baton to break their hand, wrist or arm. The use of a non-lethal option is, in effect, a proportional response favoring the police as it capitalizes on the weapon’s extended range and the frailty of human bones.

Even a distraught person generally understands that a police officer will not be afraid to use their baton, nor is it likely he/she will miss. As such, the individual will commonly concludes one of three outcomes are likely: surrender immediately to avoid excruciating pain, undergo bone-breaking injuries, or risk sustaining a fatal blow to the head or a vital organ. In this situation, it’s hard to misjudge the likely outcome. More importantly, even if the individual does err in judgment, their forthcoming wounds would rarely be life-threatening.

I believe the death of Christian Sierra was probably both preventable and unnecessary. I experienced many tense situations during 24 months in war zones around the world, so I empathize with the stress under which the police operate. That said, the soldiers with whom I so proudly served never killed anyone when the means and opportunity to capture/subdue them existed. Citizens should expect the same standards from their police.

Beware the “Othello Error” Reply

Bethany Jilliard as Desdemona and Dion Johnstone as Othello. (Photo by Michael Cooper).

By Chris Simmons

This phenomenon occurs when a truthful person, realizing they aren’t believed, immediately exhibits stress indicators as if they were lying. The only effective way to prevent this defensive reaction is to appear to have total belief in your counterpart’s story (at least initially). Then, once you tell him/her that you believe they are lying, ignore all further stress indicators. In doing so, you will have protected the accuracy of your behavioral baseline regarding their normal (i.e., truthful) patterns.

This blunder takes its name from a scene in the Shakespearean play wherein General Othello misreads the reaction of his wife (Desdemona) to news of the death of Cassio – one of his lieutenants.

A “Cheat Sheet” For The Art of Negotiation 1

By Chris Simmons

Negotiations come in all shapes, sizes, and intensities. While bargaining with a spy is very different from negotiating a home purchase or buying a car, many of the core tactics remain the same. Simple to master and easy to remember, these practices will help you get more out of any negotiation.


  1. Understand that negotiations are rooted in emotional “wants,” not rational “needs.” For example, do you really “need” a 455 HP Corvette? Know what the other party truly wants. What is it that you need? How big is the gap between what you want and what you need?
  2. Identify the personal and cultural biases and quirks of the other party. Develop a plan to circumvent their biases or exploit weaknesses in their perceptions (for example, you may want to use a female negotiator in a male-dominated industry).
  3. Have an opening position, a “target” or ideal position, and a bottom line.
  4. In general, plan to address the easier issues first as a means of building momentum. The longer you negotiate, the harder it is for many people to walk away.
  5. Since most communication is nonverbal, one team member should focus on watching the behavioral cues of the other party.
  6. Remember, threats have no place in a negotiation, no matter how hotly contested.
  7. When possible, avoid allowing your decision-maker to get involved once the negotiations are underway. This maximizes your bargaining position and leverage by intentionally limiting your negotiator’s authority.
  8. Ideally, have a single spokesperson, but allow any team member to call a caucus, and caucus often.


  1. Never be afraid to walk away from a negotiation – and ensure the other party knows you will if discussions sour.
  2. Operate from the perspective that everything is negotiable.
  3. Never accept their first offer.
  4. Nothing is free; every concession you offer is an exchange for something you want. Use “Yes, if…” in your discussions to reinforce the perception that the issue is not yet decided. Derail any outrageous offer by making your “if” so severe, that YOU decline the offer & counteroffer as unacceptable to both sides.
  5. Your initial offer should be at the upper limits of what is reasonable.
  6. Use sharply tapered concessions to gain momentum and show “good faith” effort. Make very small concessions as you near the end. Many individuals and groups follow a pattern known as the “Rule of Halves.” In this technique, each concession is roughly – but never precisely – half of the previous offer. If you are pushed below your target goal, intensify the theatrics by pushing hard for every point; seeking to split the difference; and offering no major concessions.
  7. Be patient.
  8. Always be on the lookout for creative concessions to offer.
  9. Be sensitive to any outside issue that seems to arise unexpectedly, as it could be a real issue.
  10. When the deal is almost done, ask for one more concession. This is known as a “nibble at the end.”
  11. Everything is conditional — until settled at the conclusion.
  12. When asked “is this your bottom line?,” answer with words to the effect “This is a fair offer/competitive offer/etc.”
  13. Ensure the other party feels satisfied with the outcome. Note: “Win-lose” negotiations are viable only in one-shot opportunities where no long-term relationship is sought (e.g., buying a car, house, etc).


Wired For Sound: The Secrets of Auditory Eye Movements & Behaviors 1

By Chris Simmons

Recalling a sound-centric event triggers one of two involuntary behavioral cues known as auditory eye movements. If the individual’s eyes go down and to their left, they are remembering what they heard. If, however, they are trying to remember what they said to someone or thought (i.e., an “internal sound”), their eyes will remain level as they look to their left.

The “Communication Paradox:” How Little You Know About Life’s Most Important Skill noted how the five senses are rooted in our everyday vocabulary. For example, someone might say: “How would it sound if I told you we need to send you to Miami for two weeks? Would that be music to your ears?” He/she is clearly speaking from an auditory perspective. Thus, when asking someone for an auditory recollection, use hearing-associated words to enhance the speed and effectiveness of their memory. This also keeps you on the same “verbal highway,” reducing the risk of miscommunication.

In contrast, auditory construction (i.e., lying) is revealed when an individual’s eyes move to their right in response to an asked or anticipated question. Remember, deceptive cues manifest in a series of “behavioral tells,” so be prepared for other common signs of deceit such as changes in their narrative’s level of detail, the introduction of qualifying phrases or hedges, etc.

Additionally, a deceptive person with an auditory speech preference will often refer to previous conversations in their responses (e.g., “As I’ve told you before…”). This is a psychological form of stress relief, emotional distancing and feigned cooperation because even if he/she lied during the cited conversation, their current statement is – in fact – true. As a result, the liar is calmer and may exhibit few (if any) signs of deception because their focus is the fact that the referenced conversation occurred, not the event in question.

The Power of a Single Clarifying Question Reply

By Chris Simmons

As the name implies, a clarifying question is a follow-on inquiry that seeks to expand upon a previously discussed topic. Often, this approach strings together these questions in a continuously narrow focus to move the discussion closer to the truth. However, in certain scenarios, you can get to the truth with a single question.

Known as a “conditional” clarifying question, the only requirement is that your counterpart has already agreed with you on a subject. This technique is intended to determine whether their agreement was sincere or simply a polite brush-off.

Multiple examples come to mind:

Your freshman daughter is back for her first weekend at home since starting college. Like any parent, you ask “So, is college everything you hoped it would be?” She answers with “Yeah, its pretty good.”

As you prepare to go out on the town, you ask your roommate “Does this outfit look okay?” She answers “Yes, it looks fine.”

At work, you pitch a colleague on the concept for a new computer app. After summation, you ask: “So what did you think?” and she replies “I like it – it’s great!”

Having received conditional agreement on your original question, the key to success with this tactic is to immediately ask a precise follow-up question that requires critical thinking on their part. For example, in scenario #1, a good follow-up would be “What would it take for you to be really excited about college?” In the second scenario, you might ask “What one thing could I do to really jazz up this outfit?” Likewise, in the workplace situation, you could follow with “What would you suggest I do to improve the concept?” In every situation, you intentionally asked for a form of soft criticism. And since you asked so directly, a person tends to offer a sincere and objective critique.

Where most people fail in this approach is not immediately soliciting feedback. Instead, they let their emotions get in the way, which kills any chance of honest feedback. Returning to the college scenario, let’s assume you follow your daughter’s response of college is “fine” with comments like “Oh, I am so relieved. I was so worried you might be homesick, have roommate problems, not like the school’s vibe, or whatever.” Your emotional outburst has effectively negated any hope of honest feedback. Knowing that you are emotionally invested, your daughter is unlikely to say anything that would hurt your feelings. You’d see similar avoidance by your roommate and work colleague.

For a conditional clarifying question to work, you absolutely must keep your emotions under control and ask a focused follow-up. If you receive the soft criticism/recommendation, their original agreement was sincere. However, if they respond by saying no improvements are needed, you’ve received a polite brush off. Let it go and move on.

Myth Busted: Looking Left or Right Doesn’t Indicate If You’re Lying Reply


We’ve all heard the claim: Watching a person’s eyes as they speak can help us figure out if they’re lying or telling the truth. Supposedly, if a right-handed person looks to the right, they are unwittingly revealing activity in the right hemisphere—the creative half of their brain—indicating they’re manufacturing a lie. On the other hand, eyes pointed to the left suggest activity in the rational, left hemisphere, showing that the speaker is telling the truth.

This idea has become so entrenched in conventional wisdom that it’s reportedly been used to train police conducting interrogations and can be found all over the web. But a new study by researchers in the United Kingdom and Canada, published yesterday in the journal PLoS ONE, indicates that there’s absolutely no evidence for it at all. ”It’s madness,” says Richard Wiseman, the lead author of the study. “You might as well just toss a coin, and if it comes up heads, you’re going up against a liar.”

Wiseman, who holds a Professorship in the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, frequently speaks on the psychology of lying and illusion, and says that running into this myth over and over again finally convinced him to test it scientifically. “Whenever I talk about lying publicly, this thing about eye movements always comes up,” he says. “It doesn’t at all match with the psychological literature, so I thought it’d be good to put it to the test.”

The first-ever study looking specifically into the myth yielded clear-cut results. In the first phase of the experiment, half of the participants were instructed to lie, saying that they had put a cell phone into a desk drawer when they had actually pocketed it in their bag. The other half were asked to put the phone in the drawer and then tell the truth. The interview was videotaped and the participants’ eye directions analyzed—and both groups showed virtually the exact same amount of looking left and right.

The second half of the experiment examined real-life lying. “We looked at tapes of high-level non-sanctioned lies—people at press conferences who were appealing for a missing relative,” says Wiseman. For half of the press conferences, the relatives speaking were later convicted for the crime, based on DNA, security camera footage or other evidence, indicating they were lying. Again, when compared to those telling the truth, they looked to the right or left no more frequently.

According to Wiseman, the myth seems to have originated in the literature of neuro-linguistic programming, or NLP, a self-help philosophy created in the 1970s and 80s. “Originally, they wrote about reconstructed memories versus generated memories—the difference between imagination and an event that actually happened,” he says. “Over the years, that somehow evolved into lying versus genuine memories.”

As the belief spread, it became accepted and incorporated into training manuals without ever being rigorously tested. “Interviewers in a lot of organizations are told to look for certain patterns of eye movements when someone talks about their past, and if they emerge, then that’s a reason to think the candidate is not telling the truth,” Wiseman says.

Although this myth has been debunked, there are some ways to analyze an interviewee’s behavior to get hints on whether they’re lying–but the methods are far more complicated that simply tracking the direction a person is looking. ”There are some actual cues that might indicate lying—such as being static or talking less or dropping in terms of emotionality,” says Wiseman, “but I don’t think there’s any reason to keep holding onto this idea about eye movement.”

Editor’s Note: While I respect the Smithsonian’s opinion, I do not fully accept its conclusion. Having been part of thousands of interrogations/interviews, I have witnessed countless instances in which the guilty party always looked to their right (my left) when lying. That said, eye movement is just one of many possible indicators of deception. The most important rule is to have a baseline of the person’s behavior/mannerisms when you know they are being honest. Using this as your starting point, detecting anomalies — almost always a sign of deception — becomes a relatively easy and highly reliable pathway to finding the truth.

The Key Role of Microexpressions 1

Dr. Paul Eckman discusses the role of microexpressions, involuntary facial tics triggered when one lies. While they occur in the blink of an eye, they are – in fact — detected and processed by the subconscious mind. As this part of the brain analyzes these gestures, it sends an alert to the conscious mind as a vague sense that something doesn’t “feel right,” or as its more commonly known, a “gut instinct.” As such, you should always trust your instincts,as they are based on legitimate  but incomplete indicators of deceit.

When to Watch the Throat For Signs of Deception 2

By Chris Simmons

When someone clears their throat or noticeably swallows after answering a question, it may simply mean they’re feeling stressed. However, if they exhibit this behavioral cue prior to answering a question, they are likely lying or the question is dangerously close to a subject they will lie about to keep secret. In the deception-centered scenario, the throat clearing/swallowing may be a response to anxiety-induced dry mouth.

Did You Get Married and Divorced For The Same Reasons? 1

By Aaron Karmin, PsychCentral.com

Why is it that we fall in love with our dream-mate and then spend the next forty years yelling, fighting and screaming as if we had married our worst enemy? It makes no sense. It makes even less sense to get a divorce and marry someone just like the first one.

All humans acquire expectations, both positive and negative in childhood. These expectations encourage us to think, feel, act, and make choices in certain ways. However, expectations do not exist in a vacuum, they exist in a context. And the context that shapes our expectations is built around our past.

Our past doesn’t necessarily predict our future, but what is familiar is comfortable and can offer security. For example, a woman who was criticized by her father and blamed by her brother will not be comfortable with a partner who treats with empathy or support. When she dates a controlling and hostile guy, her friends will say: “He’s not for you,” but she will defend him saying: “He’s really a good person down deep. It’ll work out, you’ll see.”

Another example is the woman who was “abandoned” by her father as a child. She is not “comfortable” with men who are stable and predictable. She will gravitate towards men who will mirror her father’s example and abandon her. If she accidentally marries a man who is unlikely to abandon her, she will provoke him until he can’t stand it any more and stomps out the door. Mission accomplished.

If this woman finds herself dating a man who treats her with respect, she will feel “uncomfortable” and soon end it. She will not question the nature of her “discomfort,” nor seek to relieve it. She will keep dating until she meets someone that she feels “comfortable with.”

Still another example is the woman who was her father’s sparring partner. She will be comfortable with men who fight with her. She will be uncomfortable with men who try to calm her down, to please her, or treat her as an equal. She will scorn such people as “too passive,” or “too boring.” She will search for someone more “exciting” to turn her on. In time, she will find him and they will make miserable music together.

This process is not rational or logical. We ask ourselves, “What does she see in him?” If we ask her, she will come up with some cover story like, “He is so strong, so sure of himself.” The paradox is that we often separate from our partner for the same reasons that we were first attracted to them:

First Attraction: “He was so strong and manly.”
Grounds For Divorce: “He was a brute”

First Attraction: “She was so cute and helpless; she needed me.”
Grounds For Divorce: “She was so dependent on me, I couldn’t breathe.”

First Attraction: “I loved his sense of humor.”
Grounds For Divorce: “He never took me seriously”

First Attraction: “She was sharp as a tack.”
Grounds For Divorce: “She cut me to ribbons with that mouth of hers”

First Attraction: “He was so ambitious and successful.”
Grounds For Divorce: “He never came home from work.”

First Attraction: “She was so pretty.”
Grounds For Divorce: “She was always getting looks from other men”

First Attraction: “I loved her independence!”
Grounds For Divorce: “She wouldn’t do a thing I told her.”

First Attraction: “He was a take-charge guy.”
Grounds For Divorce: “He was a control freak.”

First Attraction: “He was so easy going.”
Grounds For Divorce: “He never made a decision”

First Attraction: “He was so attentive.”
Grounds For Divorce: “He never let me out of his sight.”

First Attraction: “He was so passionate.”
Grounds For Divorce: He always yelled at me.”

First Attraction: “He couldn’t keep his hands off me.”
Grounds For Divorce: “He would push and smack me