We all encounter lots of lies throughout the average day—from the mundane (“I’m almost there”) to the life-changing (“I’m not sleeping with my coworker”). In this era of fake news and alternative facts, the flow of bogus information that we’re exposed to has gone from a trickling stream to a firehose of falsity. So it’s more important than ever to be able to discern when we’re being lied to, whether at work, home, or at the poker table. Fortunately, we’ve collected some expert tricks for spotting a lie that don’t require you to be a hard-bitten detective or mind reader. And for more help spotting lies, don’t miss the 40 Lies Everyone Tells on a Daily Basis.
You’d think that a lie would lack details. But sometimes, the opposite is true. Those who are feeding you a line tend to offer up far more specifics than you asked for.
“Liars tend to embellish in an effort to convince you the story is accurate,” says Laura MacLeod, a therapist and HR expert. She points to details like an exact time, specific decor of the location, who was there and how they were dressed—including people who are not even relevant to the story. “If it feels like too much information is being offered, without you asking, it probably is a lie or at least a partial lie.”
“If you challenge a liar—‘Are you sure? That doesn’t sound right’—he or she will often get defensive and act offended—‘I can’t believe you’re questioning me. You really think I would lie to you?’” explains MacLeod. “This is a very effective technique as it throws the blame on you, making you question your instincts and painting the liar as pristine and innocent.” And speaking of hurtful misdeeds, here are 15 Ways to Know If Your Wife Is Cheating on You.
Want to know if someone is lying? They might be itchy. Michael Josem, a poker security expert, points out that when someone is nervously telling a lie, it can cause a rush of blood to their face, which leads to mild itching.
“The nose and/or other parts of the face can sometimes become itchy, leading them to scratch,” Josem says. So if someone scratches their face while they’re telling you they have a terrible poker hand, you might want to fold.
A liar may sometimes try to keep you from seeing their mouth as they are saying something untrue. It’s a psychological tool that makes them feel like they aren’t actually lying because you can’t see their mouth.
“Some people seek to hide or cover their mouth when saying things that are untrue, seeking to avoid confrontation and soften the blow of their words,” says Josem. And for the flip-side of being untruthful, here’s Why a Little Lying Is Actually Good for You.
While nervous movements can give away a liar, a lack of movement can be a giveaway, too. According to body language expert Patti Wood, experienced liars will work to control their movements and keep any tells in check. But in the process, they actually show that they are hiding something.
“Spot a liar by looking for someone who is too stiff and still,” says Wood. “Don’t look like a liar by making sure you are naturally animated.”
Wood also notes that liars will try to close themselves off from the person with whom they are speaking. That means they cover areas where they might feel exposed or vulnerable, which include the mouth and eyes (as you might expect), but also the bottom of their kneecaps, the bottom of their torso, their neck, and the top of their head.
A liar will close themselves off “by putting clothing over [these parts], turning his body away from the person he is talking to, putting objects or furniture between himself and others, and most simply folding his arms,” Wood says. And for more on body language, find out how to Read Your Partner’s Mind with These 10 Body Language Tells.
Along these same lines, a liar might feel ashamed or think they can avoid being discovered by not making eye contact. “If they are not making eye contact, and they are looking anywhere but straight at you or straight into your eyes, this might mean someone is lying to you,” says Heidi McBain, a professional counselor and author.
According to Josem, more sophisticated liars are aware that amateur fibbers avoid looking into your eyes. As a result, they’ll try to do the opposite.
“It is harder to lie to someone when looking them in the eye—so a sophisticated liar will deliberately make more eye contact than normal,” Josem says. So if the person you are speaking to seems to be overdoing their eye contact, it may in fact be an attempt to hide something. And if you want to get to know your body’s language, here are 20 Amazing Facts You Never Knew About Your Body.
Even if you can’t quite put your finger on what it is that makes you think someone is not being totally honest, Manhattan psychologist Dr. Joseph Cilona says to trust your intuition.
“Many people pick up on subtleties without being totally aware of them,” Cilona explains. “We can actually smell fear in the perspiration of others. These kinds of cues are often out of our awareness and get labeled as a feeling or intuition. Rather than deny or rationalize, consider this to be one of the most important reasons for concern.”
Similar to offering too many details, someone who is telling a lie has a tendency to ramble, going off into odd digressions or taking a long time to get to the point.
“If in answering a question, the person talks too much, that is a sign that something is wrong,” says Bruce Hurwitz, a recruiter and career counselor who uses his lie-detecting skills during job interviews. And for more lies you’ve probably heard, check out the 40 Lies Kids Say That Parents Fall For Every Time.
Another counterintuitive tell? Being too consistent. While it might seem like the person giving the exact same answer to the same question is telling the truth, Hurwitz sees this as more likely an indicator that their answers have been rehearsed.
“When interviewing, I ask candidates/clients why they left their previous jobs near the start of the interview,” he says. “A while later, I will revisit the issue. If they repeat the answer verbatim, I know they lied. A response to a question is never identical. In that regard, it is like a signature—no two are exactly alike.”
While some liars will practice their answers to the point they seem robotic, in many cases, especially with people who are lying off-the-cuff, their answers will change from second to second.
“Often, a liar is not honest about a multitude of things and can’t always keep their stories straight,” says licensed mental health counselor and life coach Dr. Jaime Kulaga, Ph.D. “In fact, one lie often leads to another and another to cover for the previous lie. If you ask a liar a question and come back to the story of events or questions at a later time, you might get a different answer or an answer that does not add up to their first response.”
Someone with an abundance of confidence and no hesitation, no matter what questions you ask, maybe the sign of a liar. “Have you ever experienced a super smooth salesperson?” asks Wood. “He may have over enthusiastically praised the product and you felt uncomfortable about his pitch? Then you have deciphered a lie by noting that the person sounded too good or too confident.”
“If we are comfortable with ourselves and the person we are with, and the topic we are discussing, we will be open and friendly,” says Wood. “Liars don’t usually feel very comfortable so they tend to hold back and be less friendly. It is easier for friends and intimates to lie successfully because they appear less withdrawn and friendlier.”
Calum Coburn, a global negotiations expert and coach for negotiations.com, says that if you suspect someone’s being dishonest, “watch their eyes when they’re making regular conversation and telling the truth. Then notice their pattern break when they lie.”
According to Coburn, in general, we look to the left as we try to recall something (i.e. telling the truth) and look to the right when we are creating something (i.e. making up a lie).
When a person’s nonverbal behavior does not match what they’re saying, you’re probably dealing with a liar. Wood gives an example of a customer service employee slapping on a fake smile or saying, “Yes, we can do that for you,” while also shaking their head.
“When the spoken words don’t agree with the nonverbal communication, we generally trust the nonverbal communication to tell us the truth,” says Wood. “It’s all in your body.”
Lying is a cognitively tricky thing to do. That means liars will often try to stall in order to come up with their answers. And an easy way to stall is by repeating what you’ve asked them.
“When someone is repeating the question you just asked them, this is a sign that they are lying,” explains Kulaga. “It is buying them a valuable few extra seconds to think of a response to you.”
“If someone is significantly downplaying certain situations that really are a big deal, that is a sign that more was going on than they are alluding to,” according to Kulaga. “For instance, a woman might say, ‘I was hanging out with the girls for three hours and my ex showed up and left in like two seconds,’ or a man might say, ‘I was with my friends, I think like, maybe, one girl was there or something.’”
If you keep asking simple, specific questions and find that the person you’re asking never actually answers them, you’re probably talking to a liar. “Some liars do not actually answer the questions that you ask. You may find that they stretch the truth or give you a round-about answer,” says Kulaga. “For example, you may ask someone, ‘Did you go out drinking Saturday?’ and their response might be, ‘I went out with Jason and Sam, I think we got back around 11:00, and I hit the sack right away,’
But, she explains, this behavior is rooted in a decent impulse. “When someone won’t answer your questions, they are trying to not lie. If they don’t answer the question, in their book, they might be omitting, but not actually lying. This is a great way for the liar to rationalize or justify that they indeed are not lying about what happened to you.”
“When someone is lying, and they have a lot of shame around what they are lying about, they will deflect responsibility to someone else,” according to therapist Erika Miley, M.Ed., LMHC.
She adds that when people are being truthful, they are usually willing to take at least some responsibility for what has transpired. “Typically, if someone is not lying, they will take responsibility for even part of their actions. Like, ‘I don’t remember, but I also drank too much,’” she explains.
In many cases, people who want to convince others that they’re not lying go out of their way to seem like they’re being transparent, hoping you won’t call their bluff. If you ask someone where they were last night and their response is, “I was out at this bar—just look at my Facebook, call my cousin, and check the security footage,” that’s a good sign they’re not being as honest as they claim.
Even if someone has done it a million times before, lying often still feels bad to them. As a result, they’ll often try to change the subject at whatever cost. For example, if you ask your friend if they took money from your wallet and their response is, “Of course not. Have you lost weight?” you might want to rethink their credibility.
“Sometimes, when people are lying, they turn the table on you,” says Kulaga. “This takes the focus off of them and the situation at hand, and focuses the context on you. Doing so buys them time to think of a response and could even lead the entire conversation in a direction that has nothing to do with them. In fact, skilled liars can turn an entire situation and make you feel like you are the crazy one!”
According to former CIA officers Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero, who wrote the book Spy the Lie, someone who’s lying might adjust their collar, push up their glasses, run their fingers through their hair, or finesse their mustache. As they write in their book, “Another way that some people may dissipate anxiety is through physical activity in the form of grooming oneself.”
In Spy the Lie, the former CIA officers also point out that a liar may excessively clear their throat or swallow before answering any questions.
“If a person clears his throat or performs a significant swallow prior to answering the question, that’s a potential problem,” they write. “A couple of things might be happening. He might be doing the nonverbal equivalent of the verbal ‘I swear to God…’—dressing up the lie in its Sunday best before presenting it to us. Or physiologically, the question might have created a spike in anxiety, which can cause discomfort or dryness in the mouth and throat.” And if you’re worried that you’re the awful liar in the bunch, then check out 27 Signs You’re a Terrible Liar.
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