How to Tell if Somebody is Lying

Ah, if only the world was full of people whose noses extended out like Pinocchio’s every time they uttered a falsehood…

The truth is that being able to detect when somebody is lying is a vital part of being successful in both your business and professional lives.  It might not seem like a big deal – after all, everybody fibs or tells little white lies from time to time – but just think about how much of our world is based on the implicit trust that each party in a discussion is telling the truth.

You work extra hard on an assignment under the implicit promise of a future promotion – even though your boss knows the money just isn’t there to reward top performers.  Or maybe you purchase a great looking car off of Craigslist on the previous owner’s assertion that it runs great – even though he’s hiding the thousand dollars of transmission work that’s going to come due shortly.

Heck, just think about the thousands of people swindled by Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff to see just how devastating lies – when believed incorrectly – can become!

In order to protect yourself from less-than-truthful people, keep an eye out for any of the following signals that may indicate you’re being told a lie:

Tip-off #1 – Avoidance of eye contact

One dead giveaway that a person is lying to you is his inability to make and hold eye contact with you.  In many cases, you’ll find that liars are able to make eye contact throughout the parts of your conversation that are factually correct – but that their gaze immediately diverts away from you whenever falsehoods are uttered.

Obviously, a failure to maintain eye contact isn’t conclusive evidence of lying – after all, there are plenty of awkward, uncomfortable people in the world as well.  For this reason, it’s important to also look for the following clues in order to corroborate suspicions of lying.

Tip-off #2 – Extra fidgeting

Similarly, if you notice that someone you’re speaking to is fidgeting excessively, you could be seeing the physical manifestation of the person’s discomfort at telling a lie.

Tell-tale clues to look for here include:

  • Shifting from side to side while seated
  • Moving weight from foot to foot while standing
  • Fiddling with the fingers
  • Twiddling or twirling small objects in the fingers

Again, this sign isn’t conclusive – as you could simply dealing with a naturally fidgety or nervous person – but if you notice these behaviors in conjunction with other signs of discomfort, you could be dealing with a liar.

Tip-off #3 – Evidence of distress

Beyond the avoidance of eye contact and an increase in fidgety behaviors, the human body has a number of other ways to telegraph the distress that may be present when a lie is being committed.  For example, in many cases, the pupils dilate during periods of intense stress – making this physical change on possible indication that a person is lying.

Other physiological signs you may encounter include:

  • Flared nostrils
  • Sweating
  • Goosebumps
  • Tensed shoulders
  • Rigid body language

Of course, these signs can result from any type of stress, not just lying (in fact, dilated pupils are connected to arousal levels as well) – so proceed with caution.  Use these clues together as evidence that somebody might be lying to you – not that it’s happening for sure.

Tip-off #4 – A lack of details (or excessive details, provided without prompting)

In addition to observing how people act around you, listen to the words that they’re saying.  Many people telegraph their discomfort through changes in their normal speech patterns, though you’ll need to pay close attention in order to pick up on these modifications.

Two speech pattern changes that are associated with lying include vague descriptions or an overabundance of details.  In the first instance, be wary of anybody who refuses to fill in blanks in a conversation or who has trouble recalling details when questioned directly.  If you suspect a lie, ask direct questions to determine whether the person has truly forgotten this information, or if he’s attempting to avoid providing details on purpose.

At the same time, keep your ears provided for extraneous details that appear to be presented without reason.  If a person is quick to provide more information than you’ve asked for, it could be because he’s attempting to keep his story straight from the get-go.

Tip-off #5 – The phrase, “I’m being honest!”

Finally, one tell-tale tip-off phrase to listen for is, “I’m being honest” (or any variation on this theme).  Most of us go around assuming that we’ll be taken seriously and that the information we share will be accepted without question.  It’s only when we attempt to pass on falsehoods that we doubt this usually-automatic approval – causing liars to subconsciously hone in on concerns that they’ll be discovered.

Above all, trust your gut instinct.  If you have any reason to suspect that a person is lying to you – based on these clues or on any others that you identify – play it safe and don’t make any rash decisions until you’re able to sort out fact from fiction.

3 thoughts on “How to Tell if Somebody is Lying

  1. Pingback: Please Look Me in the Eye When You’re Talking to Me. | seventhvoice


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  3. Dion Kejlberg

    Some people wants to be the center of attention, and they will will tell stories with much useless details. Not nessesary lies, but just to have more than 15 min of fame.


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