How to Tell If Someone Is Lying: 20 Tells and Clues (Ranked in Ascending Order of Reliability)
You get to work on a Monday morning and as you prepare to get busy, a colleague passes by your desk, greets you and asks what you think of her new dress.
You quickly tell her how lovely it looks on her, even if you think it makes her look dowdy. You just lied to your colleague, but she walks off to her desk with a smile on her face.
Lying is almost second to human nature. Most of us tell a couple of white lies every day. We also get lied to just as much. One study shows that the Average American citizen lies 11 times every week. Another study published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Social Psychology found that 60% of us cannot hold at a 10 minute conversation without telling at least one little lie.
Men are said to lie to their partners, bosses and work colleagues an average six times every day. The lying happens for a number of reasons.
Most people who tell lies do so to protect themselves or the other person in some way, either from being judged, from painful emotions or from embarrassment.
In most cases where we get lied to, the lies are usually harmless. In some cases, it is even better to be lied to than to be told the truth. For instance, when you lied to your colleague above that she looks good in her new dress, it made her feel better than if you had told her what you actually think.
However, lies can sometimes have huge impacts.
Lies about important matters can lead to significant consequences like getting fired from a job, broken relationships, or even jail time. Finding out that someone lied to you can erode all the trust you have in them and permanently change how you relate with each other.
If people tell lies so often, how can you avoid being on the receiving end of a lie?
Luckily, there are some active steps that you can take to become better at sniffing out when someone is feeding you a pile of it.
Below are 21 ways to tell if someone is lying to you, ranked in ascending order of reliability.
#1. CHECK FOR SWEATING
When people lie, they tend to sweat more, especially on the forehead. Sweating is actually one of the psychological reactions measured by polygraphs (lie detectors) to determine whether someone is lying.
However, sweating is the first lie detection method in this list because on its own, it is not very reliable.
A person might sweat as a result of shyness, nervousness, or any other condition that makes them sweat more than normal. Sweating should be used in combination with other methods to determine whether the person is lying.
#2. LOOK THEM IN THE EYE
You have probably heard someone using the phrase “look me in the eye” when they think they are being lied to. The reason behind this is that most people have a hard time maintaining eye contact when they are lying.
If someone starts looking away when they are telling you something, or denying something, there is a high chance that they are lying. Eye contact triggers feelings of intimacy and personal connection.
Looking away is a way of de-personalizing the situation because they know they are not being truthful. However, a person might look away if they are nervous or if the information they are about to share is potentially embarrassing.
#3. CHECK FOR SIGNS OF STRESS
When someone is lying, there is a conflict between what they are saying and what they know, which can trigger a stress response within the brain.
The stress response in the brain in turn triggers some physiological stress indicators, such as fidgeting, foot tapping, yawning, blushing, sweating, and so on.
Sometimes, the person might touch their nose in an attempt to calm down their brain. If you notice any of these signs when asking questions, there is a possibility that the person might be fibbing.
The best way to determine whether a person is lying by observing stress indicators is to compare these indicators against a baseline.
If the person does not normally exhibit any of the above behaviors until you start questioning them about a particular issue, this is an indication that they might be lying.
#4. WATCH THEIR POSTURE
When communicating, there’s more to the communication that what the people in the conversation are saying with their words. The body is a more accurate indication of what a person truly means.
For instance, someone who is fibbing might tend to slouch, slump on a couch or shrink in on themselves. This is a subconscious reaction that might occur even without the person’s knowledge.
Normally, when someone is being honest, they tend to maintain an open posture, which is physically more vulnerable.
However, when someone is lying, their body adopts a closed off or smaller posture in an attempt to subconsciously protect themselves.
#5. WATCH THEIR RATE OF MOVEMENT
When someone is deceiving you, they know that some of their physiological indicators might tip you off. So they go out of their way to control their physical reactions in a bid to trick you into thinking that they are calm and collected.
Since most people know that a person who is lying tends to be fidgety, they will try as much as they can to avoid such movements.
The result is that a person might become extremely still, use no hand gestures, minimize their facial movements and speak slowly. If you think that a person is too still and stiff, with almost mechanical movements, they might be lying.
However, many liars who use such tricks are skilled liars, so it might be harder for you to get onto them.
#6. LEAN IN WHEN TALKING TO THEM
When people having a conversation are in sync, they tend to mirror each other’s actions.Therefore, if you lean towards someone during a conversation, they will subconsciously lean in as well.
However, if someone is lying to you, there is a conflict within their subconscious, and therefore they will lean away due to their discomfort. Even when you lean in, someone who is deceiving you will lean back.
Their subconscious is trying to create a distance between you and them. You should also watch their feet. If their feet are pointed away from you or towards an exit, there is a high likelihood that the person is lying to you.
#7. WATCH OUT FOR INAPPROPRIATE EMOTIONS
One thing that is common to most humans is that emotions are very difficult to hide. When speaking to someone you suspect might be lying to you, watch their emotions carefully.
Do the emotions match what the person is saying? For instance, is the person smiling when passing some terrible news?
Do they seem bored even when passing exciting news? Are they too excited about something that doesn’t seem to warrant that much excitement? These could be telltale signs that the person is lying.
For instance, a person lying about a terrible event might not know how a person who has actually gone through such an event would react, therefore their emotions will be based on imagination, and might be a little bit off.
#8. WATCH OUT FOR INDIFFERENCE
This is closely related to the previous method. When a person is lying about a situation, they are talking about something they created in their mind, therefore they do not know the actual emotions that should go with the situation.
To prevent portraying the wrong emotions, such a person will talk about a situation with indifference, without showing emotion.
They will look bored even when talking about something that is emotionally charged.
This is a sign that they are talking about something they just made up in their mind.
#9. VOCAL UNCERTAINTY
When a person is lying, they won’t be very confident in what they are saying, unless they are a very good liar. They might seem unsure of what they are saying.
Their sentences will be fragmented. They might start a sentence and not finish it, or start talking about something else mid-sentence.
Others might start stammering or stuttering. A person who is lying might also have long pauses between their sentences as they try to compose a story off the fly.
If a person is taking too long to think about the next sentence, it is possible that they are lying. However, vocal uncertainty and fragmented speech might also be a sign of nervousness.
#10. DELAYED EMOTIONS
Like I mentioned earlier, someone who is lying to you might be out of touch with the emotions required for a particular response. Therefore, when you ask them a question, their first instinct will be to give a verbal response to the question.
After a moment, they might realize that they did not show the emotion supposed to go hand in hand with the verbal answer, which will result in a slight delay between giving the verbal response and showing any definitive emotions.
For instance, if you are accusing someone of doing something, they might deny the accusation and then after a moment, get angry at you for accusing them.
However, if somebody was telling the truth, they would get shocked at the thought that you are suspecting them, even before denying your allegations.
#11. THEY KEEP PROCLAIMING THEIR HONESTY
When someone is lying to you, in their mind they know that there is a possibility that you might not believe their lie. As a result, someone who is lying might keep emphasizing the validity of what they are saying.
To do this, they keep repeating phrases such as “to be perfectly honest”, “to tell the truth”, “the truth of the matter”, “God is my witness” or “I swear to God”.
If someone is telling the truth, in most cases they won’t feel compelled to justify their statements using such phrases.
#12. THEY HAVE AN ANSWER FOR EVERYTHING
Human beings are not computers. Even if we store our memories, remembering everything is not as easy. This explains why someone will take a moment to remember if you ask what they were doing last week. However, if someone has plans to lie to you, they will craft a story beforehand.
They will have thought about the questions you are likely to ask and prepare answers for them. Therefore, if you find someone answering all your questions without any hesitation, there is a chance that the person is feeding you a big one. If you get the idea that they are lying, try asking them unexpected questions that they might have not anticipated.
This will get them out of their item and will make it easier for you to find out if they are lying.
#13. HIDING THEIR MOUTH
While humans have control over their conscious mind (the part of the mind involved in lying), they do not have much control over the subconscious. Therefore, when someone is lying, their subconscious mind will be against what they are saying.
This is why people who are lying tend to cover their mouth. Their mind is subconsciously trying to close off the communication since it knows whatever is being said is not truthful.
Therefore, if you ask someone about something and you find their hand going to their mouth while they are giving you an answer, this is a sign that they might be deceiving you.
#14. DEFLECTING THE QUESTION
While people lie every so often, they do it because they feel they have to, not because they like lying. Lying actually makes people feel guilty. To avoid this guilt, many people prefer deflecting the question instead of telling a lie.
When you ask a question to someone who is guilty, they will try to dodge the question, throw a question back at you or give you information that is related to but not relevant to what you are asking.
For instance, if you ask someone if they have been cheating on you, instead of answering with a no, they might say, “You know I love you, why would I do that.” In this case, they have deflected the question to avoid telling a lie.
#15. TOO MUCH INFORMATION
When someone is deliberately lying to you, they will do everything within their ability to make you swallow their lie. Someone who is lying to you might tend to give you more information than you asked for in an attempt to come across as truthful.
They think that providing lots of information, they will appear more open and therefore more honest. Ironically, despite the ton of information they will be feeding you, they won’t give an answer to your question.
They might also be trying to confuse you with all the information, so that you end up forgetting your question.
Therefore, if you ask your partner what they did during their night out and they keep going on and on about what their friends did and mention nothing that they personally did, there is a chance that they did something they do not want you find out.
#16. THROW THEM SOME BAIT
A good way to get someone who is trying to deceive you to confess is to throw them some bait, something that will make them consider the possibility that you know they are lying.
For instance, if you suspect that someone went someplace they do not want you to know, casually mention that a mutual friend was at the same place.
If the person was there, this will create a possibility that the mutual friend saw them there. The possibility that you know what they are trying to hide from you might lead them to confess.
Similarly, if someone is telling you that they went to a certain place and you think they are lying, you can throw them bait by mentioning some small detail about the place.
For instance, if they are saying they went to a certain restaurant that you think they haven’t visited (one that you have visited yourself), mention how the tables at the restaurant look, or how the table waits dress, and so on.
If the friend went to the restaurant, they will add some detail about their experience at the hotel.
However, if they did not, they will just agree with you and then quickly move on from the topic.
#17. ASK THE SAME QUESTION MULTIPLE TIMES
If you think someone is feeding you a pile of it, try asking them a specific question about three different times. Phrase the question differently each time. Watch out how they answer the question.
Does their answer change based on how you phrased the question, or do they keep giving the same answer over and over?
If someone keeps giving the same answer regardless of how you frame your question, there is a high chance that they are giving you a rehearsed answer.
Someone who is telling the truth will give an answer that sounds less scripted. Someone who has experienced something will have multiple ways of describing the experience. However, if the experience is made up, they will want to stick to a script to avoid slipping up.
#18. THEIR STORY DOES NOT ADD UP
When someone is caught up in a sticky situation and they decide to lie, they simply create a cover up story off the fly. However, since they are making up the story as they go, it will impossible for them to think of all details at once. New details will be created as the questions are asked.
As the questions keep coming, sometimes it will get to a point where some new detail they have thought of will conflict with another detail they provided earlier.
This is a very clear sign that the person is lying.
For instance, someone might mention that they took the bus. Further ahead, they might talk about paying the taxi driver, which would conflict with the earlier statement that they used the bus.
If their story has elements that do not make sense, that’s possibly because it is a made up story.
#19. ASK SOMEONE TO RECOUNT THEIR STORY IN REVERSE
If you think someone is feeding you a made up story, the best way to get them to slip up is to ask them to report their story in reverse. Doing this achieves two things.
First, if someone is telling a made up story in reverse, they will have a harder time recalling the story, and therefore they are more likely to say something that will give them away.
Second, telling a story in reverse chronological order is a mentally demanding task, even for someone who is telling the truth. When someone is telling a story on reverse, all their focus will be spent on recalling the details of the story, and less on monitoring their behaviors.
This means that if someone is lying, it will be easier to notice other non-verbal cues that might point out that they are lying, such as inappropriate emotions and body posture.
#20. TRUST YOUR GUT
Some people are really skilled at lying, and will easily do so without giving any tells. Sometimes, you will come across such a liar. Try as you might, you will not spot any giveaways.
However, you might still feel that the person is lying, even if you cannot point to any single thing as the reason behind the feeling.
Many times, this gut feeling is based on something real. Don’t ignore it. If your instincts tell you that someone is lying to you, take their story with a pinch of salt.
Lying is part of human nature, and there is no single, universal method that you can use to detect when someone is lying to you. Some of the methods mentioned above will work on some liars but not on others.
In addition, the methods and indicators mentioned above do not strictly mean that the person is lying. Instead, they indicate that there is a possibility that the person might be lying.
The best way to gauge if someone is lying is to use a combination of these methods. If someone is displaying many of these indicators of lying, there is a higher possibility that the person is lying.
If you suspect that they are lying, increase the pressure – such as by asking them to tell their story in reverse – to see if they will show more indicators of lying.
Finally, trust your gut feeling. If your instincts tell you that a person is lying to you, they probably are.
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