Urgent message: It’s human nature that some of the patients, employees, and vendors urgent care providers and operators deal with on a daily basis will twist the truth to gain an advantage. Key for urgent care leaders, who need correct information to make good decisions, is to recognize when you’re being lied to and to have a rational, calculated approach for responding.

Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc is Chief Executive Officer at Velocity Urgent Care and is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine

Whether it’s the little white variety meant to flatter or spare feelings, or the big fibs that can cause major harm, we’re surrounded by lies every single day. In some cases, we’re on the receiving end, but if we’re honest, we’ll admit that sometimes we’re also the liars when it suits our interests. And while being told lies on a personal level certainly sparks emotions ranging from rage to sadness, being lied to in a professional environment can carry with it a number of serious and costly business consequences.

As an urgent care operator, you’ll probably face a multitude of situations where you suspect you’re being lied to, such as:

  • Employees lying to cover for negligence or misdeeds or telling falsehoods (ie, calling in sick for work when they’re well)
  • Vendors exaggerating features and benefits of a product or lying about the fine print in a service contract
  • Job applicants overselling past experience or concealing past issues
  • Patients lying to get drugs, or to get a doctor’s excuse from work/school
  • Patients lying about the circumstances surrounding a workers’ compensation injury (ie, portraying a minor injury as more serious to get additional time off)
  • Employees and colleagues lying to each other for malicious and defamatory purposes (ie, gossip, backstabbing).

This list could go on. The lies you encounter at work can be as varied and unique as the people telling them, so being able to discern when you’re being lied to is certainly an important skill.

There are few instances, however, where you can just come right out and directly accuse someone of lying. Indeed, you may have strong suspicions that the other person is fibbing, but without irrefutable proof, your position calls for you to handle the situation with diplomacy and professionalism.


Tactics for Dealing with A Liar

In order run your urgent care business effectively, you need an understanding of how to diplomatically, but deftly, communicate with suspected liars—whether they’re patients or employees. You must have a sense of the right questions to ask, how to listen intently for clues and evidence, and even how to surreptitiously lead the liar to inadvertently expose themselves. With that in mind, I’ve summarized five negotiating tactics gleaned from the July 2016 Harvard Business Review article, How to Negotiate with a Liar, that urgent care operators can use as a template when dealing with liars.


Get them to reciprocate. Researchers have found that people have a strong inclination in face-to-face conversation to match the other person’s level of disclosure, especially when it’s considered sensitive information. Essentially, when we feel people are being transparent with us, we want to match their transparency. Thus, an urgent care operator who may be dealing with a vendor who they think could be lying or withholding information about, say, the “small print” of a product or service contract, might divulge to the vendor some minor detail about a similar or related contract, service, or vendor. The vendor will then be likely to reciprocate with information about his product or service.


When questioning whether someone is being less than forthcoming with you, try upping your level of disclosure. Time and again, the research shows your act of sharing information will effectively get your counterpart to open up likewise.


Pose the right questions. People will withhold important information they know they should divulge, but they’ll rationalize that the omission wasn’t truly unethical if they weren’t directly asked. It’s critical, therefore, to ask direct questions. If you’re questioning an employee about a disciplinary situation involving a second employee, for instance, they’ll probably omit details about the incident to protect their coworker, unless of course doing so serves their best interest. Additionally, people are more likely to tell the truth when the question has a negative or pessimistic assumption as opposed to a positive or optimistic assumption. For example, the question, “This situation is going to cause a lot of problems, right?” is more likely to be answered truthfully than, “This situation is probably not that big a deal, yes?”


People like to think of themselves as ethical, so when asking a question, be careful not to phrase it in a way that allows an “easy out” such as a yes/no answer. Asking a question that casts doubt often leads an individual to be more truthful in her response.


Prepare for dodging. When a liar doesn’t want to answer a question, they’ll often answer the question they wished they were asked instead. And surprisingly, researchers have consistently found that people aren’t very good at picking up on this kind of dodge. The solution, however, is a simple one: ensure that your exact question was answered before continuing. While talking to someone you suspect is lying, bring a notepad with questions written down in advance.

Before moving onto the next question, double-check that the prior question was answered to your satisfaction.


The reason a liar can successfully dodge a question—by answering a question that wasn’t asked—is because people often forget the exact question they asked.


Be casual, rather than formal. The Harvard researchers found that when the setting and the line of questioning was more formal rather than casual, the tendency for people to lie increased. Of course, there will be circumstances where formality is appropriate (and, in fact, required), but whenever possible, keep the setting and line of questioning casual when you need the truth from someone. Time and again, people demonstrate that they are much more forthcoming when the tone of questioning is casual.


Encourage leaks. Police detectives understand this principle well: If you just sit back, stay quiet, and let people talk, they’ll often let things slip all on their own. So, when dealing with a liar, ask open-ended questions and listen. Often, they’ll reveal a key piece information. Another way to encourage leaks is to ask hypotheticals, or multiple-choice questions. The preference they express can provide valuable insight into what they’re hiding, or what they deem important. Lastly, add contingencies such as, “If it’s revealed that ‘X’ is true, should there be ‘Y’ consequences?” A person with nothing to hide will agree to the contingencies; a liar will balk.


Avoid questions that can be simply answered with a “yes” or “no” and instead ask open-ended questions that require someone to formuate a response. Then, probe that response with follow-up questions



Although lying is a part of life, dealing with it can be tough when you’re in a decision-making, leadership position. Leaders need accurate information to make good decisions. Employees, patients, and vendors will all lie occasionally to protect their own self-interests, so it’s important to be well-versed in the ways that people will lie to you, and to have a solid strategy in place when you need to separate fact from fiction.

How to Deal with a Liar
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