Tired of People Lying to You? Here is Why They Are Doing It (and How to Stop them)
We use lying for many reasons. For one, we use it to protect ourselves. Against what, is the question. Sometimes we protect ourselves against the feeling of shame, the experience of abuse or cruelty.
We lie to protect ourselves, our close ones and our possessions. We lie to get our way and for attention. We are trying to maintain our image, hide our mistakes and failures.
We lie for money, or resources. We lie on our taxes and for insurance, we cheat on our exams and embellish our skills at our jobs. We lie to our significant others during our arguments.
We lie to save money or conserve our energy.
Why do we lie so much? What does all that protection get us? If we do It so often, does that mean it works?
WHY LIE IN GENERAL?
It is a survival instinct.
People are afraid that if they don’t lie they risk society turning against them – rejection and isolation, losing what they have, or not gaining new things.
They do not fear the consequences if they are found out, because they often wouldn’t suffer any consequences for pretending or being dishonest. That means they feel safe.
It is important to understand that liars are often mistaken for malicious when they are just insecure. And you need to respond with compassion, rather than vindictiveness. Compassion is the key to improving relationships, stained by dishonesty.
Research has been conducted to study liars. Who lies, how often people lie, and why they lie. People were asked to keep a diary of all their conversations. Turns out, people lie sometimes out of habit. Regardless if there is anything to be gained or not.
What is more interesting, some people are more often lied to than others. There could be something about you (in your face, in your responses, or in your image) that tempts people to lie to you more than they would to other people.
It could be a bad thing or a good thing. You could be naïve. Or you could just be very honest and trusting. But it is crucial to understand that some people need to be more cautious of being lied to than others.
WHY PEOPLE LIE TO YOU?
1. You are high maintenance.
Your high expectations make people lie to you in order to meet the high bar you are setting. You think highly of someone. And they want to stay close to you. But you give off the impression you are not just friends with anyone. You only expect them to show you their best side.
You are so valuable, they cannot afford to disappoint you. When they do see faults in themselves, they dread telling you. So they lie. To maintain their image and your friendship. They come from a good place.
2. Your integrity.
You have a high moral standard. Always doing the right thing, always taking the high way (regardless if there is less traffic on it or not.)
You are doing a good thing. And you are being a good person.
You show that with your actions, and your behavior. You don’t need to shout it from the rooftops. Or maybe you do. Or your parents do it for you. Or your friends do.
The issue here is the psychology of disappointment. When someone interacts with another – a person with high moral standards, they have no desire, in fact they dread having to admit to their own failures.
Imagine a situation between siblings. The cliché of the favorite child. The ‘bad’ one will be unwilling to admit any sort of wrongdoing in order not to disappoint the parents, the relatives, or anyone else. They fear contributing to their unfavorable reputation.
3. You attract it.
It is the principle of the key and the padlock. One type of people will always attract another. Liars find the perfect victims. The trusting ones.
It is your attractiveness. It is not being physically attractive but encompassing a set of character traits that clicks with the personality of a liar. The liars admire you, and that drives them to try and impress you – to make you admire them. And they will lie to achieve that.
4. Your societal status.
Do you have a high status? Are you in a position of power? Are you an employer. Or maybe you have some skills or position which affects other people’s life or their work?. Are you a teacher, where you get to grade your students? You have influence on their status at school, at home (as the favorite child), are you standing between someone and their dream college (your recommendation would be crucial)?
Are you someone accomplished, whose opinion can make or break someone in society?
If you have any sort of influence or control over others, expect to be lied to more often. You have something they desire, or worse, something they believe they are entitled to, then they will lie to you.
Or they could just be trying to suck up. They will give you compliments. They will try to get you to admire them more than they deserve. They will try to become your friend. To enter your social circle. Maybe you can introduce them to someone else, who can change their lives for the better? Maybe you will see them as more favorable for promotion?
5. Your scary personality.
Most of the qualities that make other people to lie to are harmless. They work for your life for the best, and being lied to is just a side effect. That is not always the case.
Sometimes it is completely your fault. If you are going through a tough moment and it feels like you are being lied to too often and that does not even begin to scratch the surface of all of your unfortunes, take a hard look at yourself. It could be something you are doing wrong. Fix that and the lying will go away, along with other things.
Do you remember at school there was that one scary teacher you could not force yourself to talk to? Or that scary co-worker or… your boss? Are you that person to someone?
Scary people come in many different forms. Bullies is one of them. The ‘boss’ (as opposed to the leader) is another one. But some people can’t help it. They intimidate people by their mere presence.
And that makes it that much more mandatory for the scared to lie. ‘My dog ate my homework.’ ’Who, me? I wasn’t late. I mean I was late, but there was such bad traffic.’ ’No, mom, I promise, I didn’t drop off college, no matter what dad said, I would never do that.’
6. You are vulnerable.
Depression, anxiety, being easily hurt?
Maybe that’s not you. Maybe you are just going through a particularly difficult time. If your image is you are too fragile, and people know that, there will be situations where they will be quite reluctant to say to you something that you will not want to hear.
They will be scared of your reaction and of the consequences your soul will face because of their big mouth. They think you can’t handle it. The truth will break you. So they will tell you a lie.
7. Too much is at stake.
Imagine you are the CEO, for example, of a big company. Your workers will act according to your behavior. They know that you don’t want to hear any facts that will constitute bad news about your company.
Or it could be your ego. Say you are a beautiful model or an actress. Your confidence is a huge part of your career. Even if something is wrong, people around you will be willing to keep you in the dark in order to keep your energy high.
When a beloved one is sick in the family, parents protect their kids by embellishing the story. When the dog has to be put to sleep, they are ‘sending it away to a beautiful farm.’
When parents declare “they don’t talk about some things in the family”, kids inherit this behavior when they grow up. Or even before that. They ‘act like the adults’.
While it is totally understandable that they want to protect the kids from the pain, it is starting a vicious spiral. It reinforces the instinct to lie. And it manifests in other situations as well.
HOW TO SPOT A LIAR?
Now that you know a little bit more about why liars lie, you probably want to also know when they lie.
A cross analysis of hundreds of research papers on lying tells us that people are not as good at spotting a liar as they often claim to be. They are only accurate at a little higher than 50% of the time.
That means that whether you are using your priceless skills, or tossing a coin to tell, the result will be roughly the same. We do not happily admit to being lied to and not catching the liar, because it makes us feel foolish and incompetent.
Here are several tips that will help you improve your chances:
- The liar will often make a pause or delay before answering when an immediate response would be expected.
- They experience a disconnect between behavior and words (e.g., shaking their head ‘NO’ while saying ‘Yes’)
- Shielding. Putting an object or their hand between themselves and the interlocutor.
- Clearing their throat before they speak.
- Face touching. During the moment of high anxiety, caused by the lie, the body will increase the amount of blood sent to the face. The instinct of touching the affected area acts out.
- Grooming or tidying. Fixing their tie, straightening their jacket, or reordering the pieces of paper standing in front of them.
Psychology Today lets us in on the liars’ favorite things to say. The next section of the article is a brief overview of those clues.
[Verbal cues do give off some information about the liar, please note relying on those completely would be a mistake. The best method to predict deception is to compare how they react against a known truth.]
The following phrases, however, do indicate a heightened chance of deceit.
“That’s about it.”
The word “about” in this case is a qualifier, indicating the speaker is unwilling to share the entire story. Normally, they distance themselves from the lie for fear of social or legal consequences.
“You can’t prove that.”
The word “prove” suggests there is an accusation imposed on the speaker, and they are in an unfavorable position. The honest will not normally use the word ‘proof’. They will not think in that direction. The evidence will not exist if a crime was not committed.
Asking for logic
“Why would I do that?”
Honest people will deny the wrong doing immediately. They will typically just say, “No, I didn’t do that.” Deceptive people will feel they were caught off guard, and they need the extra time.
“Are you accusing me?”
First off, we have them answering a question with a question, which once again is a tactic, designed, to give them more time. Then, they would turn on the defensive. It is an overreaction, a counterattack, undertaken in order to mask the real emotions – of shame, of regret, of fear. All very strong emotions that would need just as strong of an accusation on the other end, to justify the tension one could feel in the accused.
“I don’t remember doing that.”
Sudden lack of recent memory to cover the truth.
First off, lacking a memory is the absence of something. You cannot have an absence of something that never existed. By saying you do not remember something, you are saying you used to remember it, but no longer do. If you never knew about the event, you would probably react another way.
The second clue hides in the word ‘that’. ‘That’ normally means a specific set of actions. When you say, “I didn’t do that,” you normally know exactly the event you are accused of causing.
The perfect follow-up question should be, “What do you remember doing?” If someone is not lying, they remember what they were doing and will have no issues sharing that. Liars, on the other hand, will get confused. They will stutter, they will show the signs of coming up with a story.
Those are just examples. A simple way to follow the same logic is to listen if the response fits the conversation. More often than not, you will hear something that sounds off if you are being lied to.
Watch this fascinating video of Pamela Meyer telling you how to spot a liar.
HOW TO REACT TO A LIE?
If you are certain you are being lied to, you can react in one out of four ways:
- You can do nothing. Maybe you are not winning much from calling someone out. Maybe you are even doing the world a service if you play along to white lies.
- Use humor – acknowledge the lie but give the liar a chance to admit without creating an awkward situation.
- Interrogate the defendant. (asking lots of questions to get details can force the liar into admitting the dishonesty without you calling them out).
- Call them out. Best do it without damaging the self-esteem of the liar. Do it privately. And with respect. And understanding.
However you react, make sure you allow the defendant to admit to their wrongdoing without harsh accusations. As we already discovered, lying is not much more than an instinct in a lot of cases. React with compassion. Ask questions. Learn about the root of the behavior. What brought them to lie? Is it possible to continue the relationship forward without damage from the lie? Empathy goes a long way.
You may benefit from actively convincing the liar you have walked in their shoes. Let’s say they lie to you about money. And they try to deceive you out of petty cash. Try explaining to them you are so broke you can’t even afford to pay for your own lunch. See how they will react. More often than not, a liar will back off from their bold claims, and let you have your money. They might even admit to their lying.
What should you do if it is a close one that you are catching in a lie? First rule, calm down and try to be objective. You have probably told them a couple white lies here and there. And maybe a couple heavier ones. Don’t be too judgmental.
You have benefitted way too many times from them not being able to catch you in a lie. Like we said earlier, people are only correct 53% of the time, and that is, if it even crosses their mind they could be lied to. What is more scary, even CIA specialists, whose work it is to spot lies, are not as good at doing it. They are only 60% likely to be correct about someone lying, if they solely base their judgement on verbal cues.
But when you do catch a close friend it could feel very bad. You immediately forget about all of the times you lied to them. And you feel betrayed and ashamed. It is almost like you did something wrong. It feels like an insult.
Our advice is to not avoid the conversation about it. Lies between friends and family must be cleared immediately, otherwise they could be very toxic to even the most unmovable relationships.
Try to be objective. And to let them off the hook easily. They only lied to you this one time. Avoid projecting on them all those times you were suspicious, unless you have admission of guilt. Do not perpetuate the bad behavior. Be careful not to use insults, too many accusations… or new lies. Stay honest, and speak your truth. Only time will tell if your relationship is doomed.
What if it is serious? Even criminal? Before you decide how you will react to the lie, consider the recent history of similar situations. If you’re going to call someone out, you need to know the consequences – what you’re getting yourself and the liar into.
The more serious the lie, the more significant the consequences. And some of those may reflect on you. If it is criminal, make sure you are taking the right course of action legally – reporting, confessing, testifying.
Sometimes, not reacting will also be detrimental to you. It could cost you your family, your job, or you could even serve time, depending on the context of the lie.
- Your motives. Are you emotionally hurt and want revenge, or do you believe reporting is the right thing to do? Legally? Or just because it will change everybody’s lives for the better?
- Your protections. Prior to reporting the lie, make sure you take all necessary measures to protect yourself. What you don’t want to do is use other lies in order to achieve that.
- Accumulate witnesses. Be careful – only involve people who are already aware of the situation. Do not involve others, who did not volunteer to have their lives changed.
- Get your story straight. Do you know the entire scope of the lie? Do you know the entire scope of the truth? Who, what, when, where, etc.
- When you consider the consequences, always choose the least out of all evil. Even if you have a way of not facing any consequences at all, it is not worth it to ruin someone else’s life to get ahead. You might be innocent, but so are they.
We all lie a lot. Mostly, to protect ourselves from… God knows what. And we rarely get caught. Just above 50% of the time. So we are used to ignoring the consequences. We take disproportionate risks.
We lie about serious matters in order to get ahead, even if the consequences could cause us our family, our money, or even our freedom.
We know how to avoid getting caught. But do we? Becoming braver and braver in our lying, taking larger and larger risks with diminishing returns?
Is it worth it? Next time before you are about to tell a lie, think again.