5 Verbal Cues That Mean Someone Is Lying, According to Lawyers and Therapists
If you hear them, you might want to ask more questions.
We all wish we had a personal lie detector—carrying it with us to know when we're being deceived. Unfortunately, that's not an option. At some point in each of our lives, we're going to fall into the trap of a lie, be it a big one—like whether or not our partner is cheating—or a small one—like whether or not our new haircut looks good. But if you know the right things to look for, you can make yourself less susceptible to lies. Verbal cues are one such thing. Here, therapists and lawyers tell us the surprising verbal cues that can tip you off that someone is spewing falsehoods. Listen up!
They question your question.
When you surprise a liar with an unexpected question, the key thing they want is more time to think. So, anything that signals someone is stalling could be a sign of lying.
"The biggest giveaway that someone is about to tell a lie is that prior to answering a question, the person will pretend like they do not understand the question," says Carolyn Bellof, attorney at Stallard & Bellof, PLLC, in Charlotte, NC. "They will hesitate and ask you to repeat the question." In doing that, they get a few more seconds to think or make you reconsider your question.
They could also avoid your question altogether. This occurs because most people aren't comfortable telling outright lies, Bellof notes. "If I ask a question that the person doesn't want to answer… the person just won't answer the exact question that is asked. They will tell me what they want me to know, and they will leave the rest of the information out of the conversation." Missing details mean you might want to prod.
Behaviors associated with rambling, such as offering too much information, providing too many details, and stuttering, could also signal a lie.
"These signs can indicate lying because when someone lies, they feel they need to overcompensate to ensure that you are buying what they are selling and/or covering up whatever it is they are trying to hide," says Jackie Martinez, LMSW, LCSW, a therapist at Suffolk Family Therapy. This reaction is even more likely if you catch them off guard.
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They use more filler words.
According to Andrew Pickett, trial attorney at Andrew Pickett Law, PLLC, "an increase in filler words such as 'uh' and 'um,' and a greater use of non-specific language" might mean you're being fed a falsehood. These words give the speaker more time to think and show low confidence in what they have to say.
"When someone is telling the truth, their speech tends to be more direct and specific," says Pickett. "This is because they clearly understand what they're saying and can express it confidently."
They speak loud and fast.
Similar to rambling, speaking quickly is a red flag of lying. "As a therapist over the years, I have noticed that many who lie will become louder and talk more quickly to ensure they get their story out as quickly and convincingly as possible without giving you an inch to interject your feedback or ask them about any potential inconsistencies highlighting their lies," says Martinez.
If you ask for clarification on something, Martinez notes the liar may become defensive or pick up their volume even more.
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Their story is inconsistent.
At the end of the day, the biggest verbal cue that someone is lying is that their story doesn't add up. "In my field of work, I always ask the same question in a few different ways to make sure things add up correctly and there are no holes in the story," says Gillian Gadsby, solicitor and managing partner at Gadsby Wicks. "As soon as I begin to notice a lie—or even an exaggeration or confusion—I lean into that area and get to the bottom of it."
Fortunately, asking follow-up questions is easy—no law or therapy degree required.