Everyone reading this right now knows how it feels to get hoodwinked. Ripped off. Tricked. Scammed. Straight-up lied to. There is one category of people that you will always have to deal with, and those people are liars. It doesn’t matter where you live or what you do liars will always be there to complicate matters.
The impact that liars have on your life and the consequences of their lives may vary from Annoying inconveniences to treasonous betrayals that can threaten your life. A person may lie simply to make things more convenient for themselves, to save their own skin to take something from you through guile.
To make things even worse some people just seem to have a talent for lying, either through a long practice, necessity or just a sort of perverted gift. What can any of us do to confound these people and their lies?
You might not be able to cleanse their corrupted morality, or convince them to give up their lying ways but there are things you can do, proactively, to help yourself stay safe from their deception by spotting their lies and learning how to do so quickly as sort of a human lie detector. In this article we will teach you how.
Why Do Liars Lie in the First Place?
It is a wonder why people lie. Or rather it is a wonder why some people choose to lie in certain circumstances. I have no doubt that we have all encountered people who, against all rationale and common sense, choose to lie against their own self-interest.
Why would anyone do that?! Maybe it is a nervous response. Maybe they can’t help themselves, or they are some kind of compulsive liar. Maybe they feel like there is some potential outcome that they can only protect themselves from if they lie in the here and now.
One thing we do know for sure though is that people will often lie deliberately, willfully, skillfully in order to get a positive outcome. This is done by fundamentally skewing the perception or the accepted information of the person that is listening to the lie.
What can they achieve by doing this? It could be to elicit a certain response, perhaps one of pity or sympathy in order to steal something from you without conflict; if you give something to someone under their false pretenses that is patently fraudulent on their part.
Perhaps someone is lying in order to spread disinformation, to increase the noise-to-signal ratio in order to cover their tracks if they have been up to no good or did something that they know they shouldn’t have been doing.
By admitting no wrongdoing if accused, changing pertinent facts and making counter-accusations a liar can slow down or even halt the investigative or decision-making process of other people involved in an incident. Even if their lies are fairly shoddy, it can take time to unravel them.
Worst of all a liar can tell you a blatant falsehood in order to get you to drop your guard, increasing your vulnerability, or they can stretch out this false sense of security over a longer period of time in order to lure you into a trap.
The classic “broken bird” ambush begins with a person who is seemingly in trouble or in dire straits preying upon the morality of a Good Samaritan.
You have probably heard the phrase “get off the X” in reference to avoiding ambushes. In such a scenario our liar is the equivalent of the crying puppy sitting right on the X, waiting for some tender-hearted person to come and rescue it.
On a more relatable note, some people might lie in order to protect their hand as it were. They essentially want to keep their business their own business and no one else’s.
They don’t want people knowing what they have, what they are doing, where they live or where they are going since they do not trust the person they are talking to.
This reasoning is valid, especially in the middle of an emergency situation. I would wager that a fair portion of you plan to do the same thing if you are ever in their shoes.
But, ultimately, no matter why someone is lying, and no matter what their ultimate motivations are you can make decisions that result in negative outcomes for you if you get taken in by their lies.
The good news is that detecting lies, or at least the probability that someone is lying, is entirely possible, and the skills for doing so are learnable no matter who you are.
Talent helps, but experience and training is more important. I suggest you start working on it if you want to steer clear of the deceivers that are out here.
But There Are No Guarantees
Before you run off with visions of turning yourself into a human lie detector machine dancing in your head, you need to get straight on one immutable truth: Unless you have incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, there is no way to be truly certain if someone is lying, or not just by talking to them and employing observational skills that we are going to go over in this article.
Why is this so? There are several factors. Some people are simply so good, so skilled, so damn slick at lying that they can utterly fool experienced interrogators, interviewers and lie detector machines across several sessions of questioning.
Whether they are natural born-shysters or confidence men made from years of long practice and experience makes no difference; if the best in the world cannot hope to catch these people in a lie in casual conversation chances are you don’t either.
This works in the other direction also. Some people could be telling the truth, and are simply so awkward, so nervous and socially rudderless that 100% factual statements can appear shady as all hell tumbling out of their lips.
People who are stressed out, anxious or fearful for some other reason can produce false positives that you might pick up on as indicators of deception.
I’m not saying that it is a crapshoot, and you should not refine these skills. You absolutely should; just keep in mind that detecting deception is part art and part science and there is plenty of room for ambiguity.
In most circumstances you will only be able to use these skills to tilt your confidence that someone is telling the truth or lying one way or the other so that you can make intelligent decisions even if they are not fully informed ones.
The Ultimate Guide to Spotting Liars
You will need a multi-pronged approach if you want to reliably catch liars in the act. First, you’ll need to know what to look for. As it turns out liars exhibit a fairly reliable set of traits that are easy to spot once you know what you are looking at.
Next you’ll need a bit of a primer on human psychology, the way people act, and the things they will do when they are lying versus when they are not lying. This is where the art of human lie detecting comes in.
Lastly, you’ll need to know how to conduct yourself and direct the conversation in order to calibrate someone so you’ll know when they are actively employing deception versus just nervous or uncomfortable.
This might all sound pretty eccentric but I assure you you can learn this just like any other skill in your repertoire. That’s enough preface, let’s get after it!
Liar’s Tells: Indicators of Deception
Every liar but the most accomplished, coldest con man will exhibit tells of one kind or another when they are employing deception. These are physical movements or reactions that typically result when someone feels stressed.
If someone feels stressed in the course of casual conversation, they might be feeling that way because they know they are lying. The psychological details of why this occurs are quite complicated, but all you need to know is that they are true and generally reliable.
The list below contains the vast majority of the common tells that will indicate when someone is feeling stressed. Don’t misunderstand and think that everyone will exhibit all of these behaviors; they might, but they are more likely to exhibit their own unique set of behaviors taken from the list below.
Your job in the course of conversation is to be on the lookout for which ones appear during relevant questioning because they may indicate that the person is lying. Generally speaking, the more indicators that appear, the higher the likelihood that someone is lying or the more stressed out they feel.
Some are obvious, some are subtle, but you can learn to detect all of them once you can reliably recognize them. Full list and details below.
Stiff Posture or Standing Stock Still
Very few people ever have a reason to stand completely still, and even fewer stand completely still as a matter of course as part of their normal body posture. We are constantly moving and gesturing as part of our normal communication with other people, even when we are not consciously aware of it.
When people freeze in place it indicates fear likely as a subliminal response to a fear of discovery, as a prey animal would when they know that a predator is near.
Should notice the person you are talking to is standing as still as a statue and trying not to move, you might be on to something and they might be lying.
Altered Breathing Tempo
Every person has their own breathing tempo that is dependent on several intrinsic factors, like how fit they are, how fast they talk, personal comfort and others.
Generally, unless someone has a cause to alter their breathing tempo, like say, for instance, intense exercise or something of that nature, this tempo does not change. Any noticeable change in the course of conversation should be noted, and may well be a stress indicator.
The person you are talking to may speed up their rate of respiration- hyperventilation- or they may slow down their respiration to the point of holding their breath before taking in a big gulp of air. Speeding up or slowing down likely indicates stress, and stress could indicate deception.
When people get nervous, they perspire. Some people perspire so heavily when upset it is almost comedic and it is hard not to feel sorry for them.
If the person you are talking to does not have cover for starting to sweat (exertion, high ambient temperature, fever, etc.) it is a tell if they start to do so, assuming they are in a comfortable position and calm.
This can be easy to spot if someone is otherwise cool and dry, as all people who start to sweat will take on a nice sheen in no time when stressed.
People who are in the process of lying are famous for screwing up the way they talk. Stuttering, repeating themselves and other verbal mishaps will be common, especially among those who are nervous or inexperienced liars.
Additionally, someone might hang on a particular word, seemingly developing a stutter out of thin air. Ultimately, you might notice the same word popping up entirely too often throughout your conversation.
A crack or hitch in the voice is not out of the question either, since nervousness and stress will often lead to dry mouth which can cause someone’s voice to crack audibly. Any of the above, singly or in multiples, might indicate that the person you are talking to is lying.
Covers Their Mouth
A fairly well-known and obvious symptom of deception in progress. People that are lying often subconsciously want to physically cover or interfere with their mouth in order to physically block the words that are coming out.
I suppose the idea is if they can contain those words or cover their mouth, then they will hide the lie. Someone who pokes, prods or otherwise plays with their lips or the corners of their mouth using either hand also fall into this category.
This tell is similar to covering the mouth, above. This is a subconscious reaction to the feeling of being trapped or in danger. Many people respond by fidgeting with vulnerable areas on the body, the neck being foremost among them.
This particular tell is especially common among women, and they will often exhibit it by dipping their chin or cupping a hand around their chin to shield the throat.
This tell can be subtle and hard to detect compared to some of the others, especially when folks that are just highly talkative or plain, old motor mounts are involved in the conversation.
But, if you should notice that the person you are talking to seems to be way, way too forthcoming with information about the subject at hand, including all of the surrounding details, the setting and the prologue of the events in question you should be suspicious.
Liars tend to shellac what they are telling you with copious amounts of details and the lengthy, hyper specific answers in an effort to seem helpful. What they are really doing is tipping their hand.
Ducking the Question
This is a pretty obvious one. Anybody who is making graceful or not-so-graceful attempts to avoid a topic of conversation or outright duck a question you were asking them is presenting a significant indicator that they are probably lying, or want to avoid being put in position that will force them to lie to save their own skin.
This is even more conspicuous if it occurs a second or third time when you try to bring the conversation back around to the topic that sent them “fleeing” in the first place. You are also much less likely to encounter this tell if you are dealing with someone who is a proficient liar.
Turning the Tables
If someone has the incentive to lie and feels like they have been painted into a corner in the course of the conversation or they’re just of a more aggressive personality type you can expect them to make counter accusations or otherwise go on the “offense” in the conversation.
This is a form of projection in some instances, when someone accuses you, or someone else, of doing what they did or engineering the situation to frame them, set them up for a fall or some other similar bad outcome.
They may accuse you or someone else of being directly responsible for whatever the topic at hand is if it was something negative, even if it is patently false, in order to buy time for them to slip out of the trap.
Significant repetition in a conversation is usually a red flag. The reason why is that the brain is consciously or subconsciously fixed on some word or object, and this can manifest as a Freudian slip (revealing the thing they are telling themselves not to reveal) or as a simple delaying tactic to buy time for them to think of a solution or a way out of the position.
Be especially alert for anyone who is repeating the question you asked them back to you, especially more than once. That disproportionately seems to indicate deception in progress.
Cannot Recall Specifics/Details
This is a generally reliable indicator of deception but it is a highly nuanced one: lots of people have trouble with recall when they are nervous or stressed out, or when being asked to recall details about an event that was traumatizing, scary or long ago.
Nonetheless, you cannot rule it out as a potential indicator of a liar. When someone needs to buy time to think, this is commonly deployed to pay for that time.
The more likely it is that a person- a reasonable, functional person with all their faculties- should have no difficulty at all recalling the details of the circumstances or the event that you’re asking them, the more likely it is that this is a ploy in the service of a lie.
The classic calling card of a serious con man or a born liar. Most people blink pretty much all the time, and people who are upset, nervous or otherwise stressed will typically blink rapidly.
If you should notice this tell exhibited by anyone you need to be on your toes, as this is also particularly common among sociopaths and other unhinged people. It is easy to spot once you know what to look for: A lack of blinking, a seemingly fixed gaze that never breaks from your own and a certain coldness to the eyes.
Rapid shifting of the gaze or jerky tracking movements of the eyes is commonly exhibited by those who are very nervous, and almost a cliché of a person who knows they are in danger of getting caught doing something they shouldn’t be; in our case, lying!
Unless you can be sure that someone has a neurological issue that causes their eyes to dart back and forth anyone who is showing you jerky glances to and fro is almost certainly looking for an exit and that means they are probably lying, or at least very uncomfortable with conversation.
“Big arms” is shorthand for large, sweeping movements made with the arms, typically theatrical in nature. Anytime the arms start moving around significantly above the waistline or around shoulder or neck level, you can be fairly confident that someone’s stress level is rising, especially in men.
This is a sort of subliminal rehearsal for a physical fight, whether that is a real perception or vestigial instinct that has been carried on through the generations over many millennia.
Unless someone typically exhibits extremely animated body language as a normal part of their personality, you should definitely start paying attention if you see this crop up.
Anytime you see someone’s feet cutting a jig in place while they are seated or standing you have another clue, but they are getting a little hot under the collar. This is a conscience or unconscious desire to leave or retreat from a situation, and you’ll notice the feet bouncing, tapping or shuffling back and forth.
This frantic, wasted movement is a sort of simulation for locomotion and when you notice this occur you can be confident that someone is anxious and perhaps getting a lie ready.
Vining is what you see people doing when they are wrapping a leg or both legs around the leg of the chair they are sitting on, or barring a lack of such features on their seat doing the same with one of their legs to the other.
Less commonly seen done with the person’s arms. This is a protective anchoring or shielding response that is easy to spot and part of a “soothing” complex of behaviors that indicate rising stress or discomfort levels.
Blushing is a common and almost inescapable indicator that someone is having an emotional response of some type.
They could be excited. They could be embarrassed. Maybe they are blushing because someone paid them a compliment or they are blushing because they are extremely nervous. They could also be blushing because they fear that their lie will be uncovered.
This tell is much easier to notice in people that have light skin colors, but darker skin colors still show detectable blushing.
Many of the tells above will be all you need to make a solid determination on whether someone is lying to you or not if you are confident in your skills.
But you should know there are few more intricate and special tells that seem to only appear as part and parcel of deception in progress.
These are also not 100% foolproof but if you do notice these come up in conversation you should be extra cautious because they are disproportionately likely to indicate that someone is lying to you.
Hard Glance Up and Right/Up and Left
This tell is a sort of quirk of biology. Plainly stated someone who glances up and to the right while thinking of something or recalling a memory is likely thinking of something that actually occurred in the past, meaning something truthful.
But if they do the reverse- glance hard upwards and to the left- this indicates that they are engaging cognitive processes associated with creation, in our case meaning a blatant lie.
Note that these directions are relative to the person you are talking to, so someone glancing upward to their right will be looking to your left and vice versa.
The reason this tell works has something to do with a connection to the logical versus creative hemispheres of the brain, situated on the right and left sides respectively. The science of it is beyond me, but it works.
This is a tell that can be hard to put your finger on until you have been informed of it and know what to look for, in which case it will stick out like a sore thumb.
Be especially on guard if someone’s attitude does not seem synchronized with what they are saying to you or with the seriousness of the conversation or topic at hand.
If you are dealing with something that is upsetting, traumatizing or emotionally high-impact, but someone seems unnaturally calm and composed this may suggest that they are putting on a mask.
You can also say the same for the reverse: If someone is coming positively unhinged over something that is relatively inconsequential they’re probably agitated over the strain of keeping their deception under wraps.
No matter which end of the spectrum presents itself, there’s a high likelihood that the person is deceiving you.
Nodding and Shaking of the Head
This is one tell you will definitely kick yourself for missing, and is the very picture of obvious once you know the trick. If someone is responding to a question, specifically a yes or no interrogative watch and see if they nod or shake their head.
If they do, pay close attention for whether or not the nod or shake of the head matches the verbal answer of yes or no. If that nod or shake is mismatched you’re very, very likely to be dealing with a liar.
This is another subliminal thing that is very hard to stop unless the person you are talking to is informed about it and even then most accomplished liars will be surprised if you inform them they are indeed doing it. Just make sure you don’t tip your hand and tell him about it, eh?
Detecting Liar’s Tells in Conversation
This is one of the key lessons for detecting liars: None of the above tells will stand on their own as proof that someone is lying. You have to look at them in the context of the conversation, the situation surrounding the conversation, and that person’s baseline emotional responses.
Their baseline emotional response is how someone acts when they are feeling unpressured, unthreatened, and generally comfortable. You need to know what that looks like so that the tells above, when they manifest, start pointing toward a possible lie.
The concept is easy, but actually doing it while conducting a realistic conversation and asking the right questions takes practice, and a significant amount of focus and awareness.
You also have to gauge how that person is reacting to you: someone that has known you for a significant amount of time is likely to be more comfortable right off the bat, or someone you have only just met or known for a short period of time is probably not going to let their guard down and act like their truest self.
And then of course the elephant in the room: you must always keep in mind that the person you are speaking to might be an accomplished and skilled liar.
So how do you establish a baseline and rule out certain tells? This too is comparatively easy; you will simply observe the person you are talking to during your interaction when they’re at their coolest, calmest and most collected all the while observing for any of the tells above.
The tells that you do notice are likely just physical tics that do not necessarily indicate deception or stress. That is now the person’s baseline, and you can rule out those particular tells as indicators.
Now, as you bring the conversation around to the topic where you suspect they might lie, be on the lookout for new indicators that you have not seen before. Those are their stress indicators, and those are the ones that likely indicate they are lying.
Calm Them Before You Question Them
Before you get any ideas of going in at a liar like some raging inquisitor you need to pump your brakes. Your objective should be to determine whether or not they are lying and then you act accordingly.
Save the fire and brimstone stuff for your favorite crime drama. What did I just get done telling you about establishing a baseline in the conversation?
If the person is not calm and relatively comfortable you will never see what that baseline looks like and so all the readings you are getting off of them will be scrambled. Think of it as getting a bunch of false positives on a seismograph reading when a herd of bison are running around it.
The correct response is instead to take the long way around to the big-ticket questions you need to ask in order to tell if someone is lying to you or not. Help calm the person down.
Be polite, be kind and of good cheer or at least good manners. They need to trust you at least nominally before they will really settle down. You should be able to see this occur as the conversation goes on.
Try to make them comfortable, and you’ll be able to tell one that is happening when someone relaxes, visibly, at least a little bit, and their body language shows they are being more open and less closed off.
Once you notice this has occurred, it is time to take a quick inventory of what tells they still exhibit even while they are calm so you can rule them out and off the list as possible indicators of a lie.
Now that you know what their baseline is it’s time to gently move in on the line of questioning that might get them upset, and that you suspect they are lying about.
Broach the Subject Gently
Never, ever try to catch someone with a gotcha question if you really want to know whether or not they are lying. It is much easier to catch someone who is lying when they are comfortable and unafraid of being caught.
The nastiest trap is the one that people never know is around, and that they walk in of their own free will.
You will accomplish this by gently steering the conversation in the direction that you need to go. Approach topics that are related to the questions that you really need to ask, or at least proximal to them so you can segue to them naturally in the course of conversation.
This is the part of the interview where you must redouble your focus: Pay close, close attention to any changes in the other person’s attitude, demeanor or bearing. These will be the first clues that you are closing in on a potential lie.
If you should notice someone growing uncomfortable with the topic you have brought up as you close in on your real line of inquiry, it is time to turn left or right in the conversation, and keep going the long way around.
Doing this will afford you the time to start really determining what makes the other person anxious, and if you know that you can start to build up a pretty good idea of what they might lie about. Assuming you have the time, don’t rush this part.
Ask the Big Questions
Once you think you have enough information about the person to determine their baseline, and to understand generally what topics and details make them uncomfortable it is time to go straight in with the big questions.
This is not the time to change your demeanor or your attitude at all! You still want to be that person that made the other person comfortable in the first place.
Pulling a Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde act where Mr. Hyde pops out all of a sudden will stress out anybody, naturally. Nonetheless, it is not time to shy away from the questions you do need to ask.
At this point you should ask the person direct questions that have clear, concise answers, and then pay attention, the fullest attention, to what they are saying and every single reaction they make.
No matter what they say and how they act keep the conversation on track. Don’t get derailed unless they are getting so bent out of shape they are making a scene that you would rather avoid or you think they are potentially moving toward violence, which is a clue enough if you ask me.
No matter what answers they give, you don’t have to confront them with confirmation or suspicion that they might be lying. Keep that information under your hat, and do with it what you will.
It is here that I must remind you to never, ever forget that your chances are pretty good at some point you will deal with an expert liar. These guys and gals can fool the best interrogators around so you and I really don’t stand much of a chance.
You can only do what you can do, and never forget to trust your gut. Your gut is a finely-honed survival apparatus, an early warning system composed of instinct, primordial senses and good old-fashioned intuition that will rarely lead you astray.
If your brain is telling you everything is in the clear but your gut is telling you something stinks, go with your gut!
Asking the Big Questions Correctly
In short, even though you were asking questions that are likely to provoke a response from someone you should not ask them in any kind of fashion except friendly and calm as you hopefully have been in the entire conversation prior to this point.
It is entirely possible, if you have conducted yourself and the conversation correctly, that the person might not even realize they are in any danger of revealing their true feelings about the topic.
If you notice that a specific question or line of questioning is unsettling them too badly, you can remix it a little bit and ask it in a different way.
Also know that questions about hard specifics, things like dates, locations, who they were with or who they interacted with are very likely to get an emotional response out of someone if they are concealing something.
Something about those pertinent details of physical interactions seem to do better than amorphous queries about what they saw, heard or thought.
Anytime you’re going to hit someone with a question about their physical presence, the presence of someone else or their interaction with someone else that is the point where you must be completely focused on perceiving any of their reactions great or small.
Be especially alert for any combination of tells that we went over above. The more uncomfortable and the more stressed out that someone is how about a question the more likely it is that they will exhibit multiple tells at the same time or in quick succession. This is doubly true if the question you are asking them is not emotionally loaded or unsettling.
If you are short on time and cannot implement all the tips and techniques we have gone over so far, make it a point to ask the questions you need to ask and then looks for as many tells as you can spot.
The more you see, or the more egregious they are, the more likely it is that someone is telling a whopper. We rarely have all the info we need to make a truly informed decision and sometimes we don’t even have the time we need to make a decent one. You might have to make do with a greatly compressed line of inquiry sometimes.
You will probably never become Robocop or the Terminator when it comes to detecting the lies that humans sometimes tell, but developing the seemingly magical ability to catch people in their lies is not the stuff of science fiction or a wizard’s parlor trick.
It is equal parts intuition, practice and experience, but with the right training and the right skills you might be shocked at just how accurate your discernment can become.
Liars and the lies they tell can waylay good people at any point in their life on virtually any interaction and so mastering skills that will let you see through the deception of others is invaluable and one that any prepper should seek to develop.