23 Secret Tricks for Spotting a Lie Every Time
Telltale signs that someone is totally full of it.
You encounter lots of lies throughout your average day—from the mundane (“I’m almost there”) to the life-changing (“It’s your baby”). In this era of fake news and alternative facts and “total connectivity,” the flow of bogus information that we are 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 are being lied to, whether at work, home, or at the poker table. Fortunately, there are some handy ways to do this that don’t require you to be a hard-bitten detective or mind reader. Here are some tips from experts for spotting a lie.
They’re Offering Too Many Details
You’d think that a lie would lack details compared to a true story someone actually experienced. But sometimes the opposite is true, with those who are feeding you a line offering up far more specifics than you’d expect to hear.
“Liars tend to embellish in an effort to convince you the story is accurate,” says Laura MacLeod, a therapist and HR expert, pointing to details such as the 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.”
They’re Super Defensive When Asked Follow-up Questions
“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.”
They’ve Got an Itchy Nose
Michael Josem, a poker security expert, points out that when someone is telling a lie, it can cause a rush of blood to their face, which can also cause mild itching. “The nose and/or other parts of the face can sometimes become itchy, leading them to scratch,” he says. So if someone scratches their face while they’re telling you they have a terrible poker hand, you might want to fold.
They Cover Their Mouth
Perhaps as a psychological tool to feel like they aren’t actually lying because you can’t see their mouth, a liar may sometimes try to keep you from seeing their mouth as they are saying something untrue.
“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.
They Lack Animation
While nervous movements can give away a liar, a lack of movement can be perhaps a greater giveaway. According to body language expert Patti Wood, “Deception is all about keeping something hidden. The more a person moves his body or expresses with his voice and the more he or she speaks, the more we can learn.”
She says that experienced liars will work to control their movements and keep any tells in check—but in the process show 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.”
They’re Closing “Windows to the Soul”
Another concept Wood points to is that liars will try to close themselves off from the person with whom they are speaking, and that means closing what she calls “windows to the soul” and “entrances to our body” so that true feelings don’t show through. These are the mouth and eyes (as you might expect), but also the bottom of our kneecaps, bottom of the torso, neck, and top of the head—areas where we might feel exposed or vulnerable.
“A liar closes these windows by putting clothing over them, 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,” she says. “When someone’s windows are closed we don’t feel as comfortable in an interaction.”
They’re Not Making Eye Contact
Along these same lines, a liar might feel ashamed or think they can avoid being discovered by not making eye contact. Heidi McBain, a professional counselor and author who has to work closely with people and determine whether they are giving her honest answers, says, “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.”
They’re Making Too Much Eye Contact
But, according to Josem, more sophisticated liars will be aware that this is how amateur fibbers behave and they will try to do the opposite, even believing that “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.” 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.
Your Gut Tells You They’re Lying
Manhattan psychologist Dr. Joseph Cilona urges you to trust your intuition, even if you can’t quite put your finger on what it is that makes you think the person with whom you are speaking is not being totally honest.
“Many people pick up on subtleties without being totally aware of them,” he explains. “New research even shows that 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 will have a tendency to ramble, going off into odd digressions or taking a long time to get to the point. Straightforward they are not.
“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 when speaking to people during job interviews. “In that case, the ‘tell’ is their degree of nervousness.”
They’re Giving Identical Answers
Hurwitz offers another counterintuitive tell: Overconsistency. While it might seem like the person giving the exact same answer to the same question is a sign of truth telling, Hurwitz sees this as more likely an indicator that answers have been rehearsed.
“When interviewing, I ask candidates/clients why they left their previous jobs near the start of the interview,” he says. “As I am writing down their answer, I glance at them and, if they are smiling, that is a ‘tell’ as they are happy (they believe) I have accepted their explanation. 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.”
They Have Too Much Confidence
Similar to someone giving you an identical answer repeatedly, someone with an abundance of confidence and no hesitation no matter what questions you ask, maybe the sign of a B.S. artist.
“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.”
They Have a Frosty Demeanor
“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.”
Their Eyes Look to the Right
“Watch their eyes when they’re making regular conversation and telling the truth, then notice their pattern break when they lie,” urges Calum Coburn, a global negotiations expert and coach for negotiations.com. “While we usually break our truth pattern at multiple levels, the eyes are the hardest to manipulate.”
He says that 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).
They’re Saying One Thing and Doing Another
When a person’s nonverbal behavior does not match what they’re saying, you’re probably dealing with someone who is not giving you the unvarnished truth. Wood gives an example of a service rep slapping on a fake smile or saying “yes, we can do that for you” while 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. “Knowing these cues can help you decipher when someone else is being less than forthcoming. Sometimes people say: ‘It’s all in your mind.’ Now you know ‘It’s all in your body.’”
They’re Repeating Your Questions
Lying is a cognitively tricky thing to do, meaning liars will often try to stall for a while to come up with their answers. “When someone is repeating the question you just asked them, this is a sign that they are lying. When someone repeats a question, it is buying them a valuable few extra seconds to think of a response to you,” explains licensed mental health counselor and life coach Dr. Jaime Kulaga, Ph.D.
According to therapist Erika Miley, M.Ed., LMHC, in cases of sexual assault, for instance, the perpetrators, when questioned, will similarly “shift the focus of the question to the person asking the question” rather than answering it outright.
They’re Giving Different Answers
While some liars will practice their answers to the point they seem robotic, in many cases, especially with people lying off-the-cuff, their answers will change from minute to minute.
“Often, a liar is not honest about a multitude of things and can’t always keep their stories straight,” says Kulaga. “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.”
They’re Using Evasive Language
Want to know if someone is lying? Inspect their language carefully. “To spot a liar, listen to how they might downplay situations that really are a big deal,” suggests Dr. 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 someone is significantly downplaying a certain situation, that is a sign that more was going on than they are alluding to.”
They Don’t Actually Answer Your Question
If you keep asking simple, specific questions and find that the person you’re asking never actually answers them, all signs point 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. 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,’” says Dr. Kulaga.
However, 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.”
They Deflect Responsibility
“When someone is lying, and they have a lot of shame around what they are lying about, they will deflect responsibility to someone else,” says Miley. 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.’”
They’re Insistent That You Ask Other People to Verify Their Behavior
In many cases, people who want to convince others 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.
They Try to Redirect the Conversation
Even if someone has done it a million times before, lying often still feels bad to them. When that’s the case, 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, “Have you lost weight?” you might want to rethink their credibility.
They Accuse You of Lying
An easy way to spot a liar? Look to the person who’s accusing you of doing the same.
“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 to you 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!”
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