How to Detect a Liar

Let’s face it, everyone lies.¬†Fortunately, with a little practice, liars become easy to spot. These simple tips will help you not be deceived.

Lies can run the spectrum from trying not to hurt someone’s feelings to toxic manipulation in work, life or love.

Listen To What Is Being Said

“Timmy, did you eat one of the cookies without asking?” a mom questions her six year old.

“No, Mommy. I did not eat one of the cookies without asking.”

If you know what to look for, Timmy’s words tell you he’s guilty.

Think about a time you’ve been falsely accused. You probably got pretty heated in your defense. If Timmy were innocent, his words might have been “No, Mommy! I didn’t!”

Instead, Timmy repeats his mother’s words verbatim and in an almost robotic way. The next time you hear this type of response, you’ll know you’ve got a guilty party on your hands.

Another way people tip off they’re lying is when they change mid-story from using the pronoun “I” to something else. When people talk, they want the spotlight on them, but if their actions are called into question, they want a metaphorical crowd to share responsibility.

Here’s an example:

I got that project completed by coming in early today.”

“Did you add in the stats that the manager asked for?”

“Well, we planned on it.”


Watch For Added or Deleted Facts

Let’s take a simple question to a significant other, “How was the gym?”

If there isn’t deception, he or she might answer, “I had a great workout. I got really pumped.”

What if they’re feeling guilty about something, maybe having a flirtatious conversation with a hot fitness instructor?

Their answer could change into a lengthy description of the crowds, the equipment, and the lack of towels in the locker rooms or forgetting their water bottle. Why all the unnecessary details? They want to divert the listener from what they perceive as a potential problem by adding facts.

Next, imagine conversing with someone about their day. They talk in detail about things that happened, like what they did at work in the morning or what they ate for lunch. That afternoon, unbeknownst to you, they got into a car accident on their way to the store and fled the scene.

Here’s the conversation:

“How was your lunch?”

“Great! I had some pizza with Lisa at this great little Italian place downtown.”

“What did you do after that?”

“Not much.”

The speaker has gone from detailed and natural to closed.

They might also use passion in their words where it’s unexpected. For example, “I drove to the store” might be injected with more passion than is warranted for the words and seem out of place.

In both of these situations, it’s likely that the speaker isn’t telling the truth or is hiding something. In order to catch them out, keep asking specific questions and see if you get direct and appropriate answers.

Watch Body Language

In addition to listening carefully, you can tell someone’s lying by their body language. Using these two skills together increase your chances of not being fooled.

  • People who lie put up barriers. Maybe it’s a hand, fingers or raised water bottle placed over the mouth, folded arms, crossed legs or getting up and going behind a desk, table or other object mid-conversation.
  • They fidget. They play with their clothing, touch their nose, tap their fingers, twitch their legs or move their feet.
  • They drop eye contact, signifying shame or that they’re hiding something.
  • Their gestures change. People normally gesture straight ahead and up in front of their bodies. Their gestures might move to the side, like they’re shoving something away when trying to deflect guilt.
  • Their facial movements don’t match their words. Think about at time someone gave you a gift you didn’t like. You said “I love it!” and then you smiled. If you had truly loved it, your smile would have coincided with your words.
  • Sometimes when people lie, they lock down their facial gestures or have tight lips.

A Few Final Tips

Think about a skilled interviewer, like Barbara Walters. She’s able to elicit information by building a rapport with her guest before going in for the hard questions. When she is going to ask a more difficult question, she moves her body forward, getting closer to her subject so they have confidence that they can share openly with her.

If you want to uncover the truth, first establish rapport. Then use a series of clear questions that elicit a narrative response, rather than a simple yes or no. If you suspect that some of the answers aren’t true, ask more questions.

Keep your body in a power position, with your shoulders squared and maintain good eye contact. Watch for verbal signs, especially unnecessary facts. See if the person becomes more or less talkative or diverts away from the topic.

Watch for body language changes such as blocking, fidgeting or facial expressions that don’t match the words being used.

A fun way to practice your skills is to watch people being interviewed. Check for all the things we’ve discussed and see what you can spot. Soon you’ll be a human lie detector and it will be of great use in your personal and professional relationships. Happy Hunting!

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