Let’s get real, you can bet that even “Honest Abe” Lincoln told his fair share of little white lies.
Simply, no one is perfect.
Even the NFL believed the Patriots’ Tom Brady lied about DeflateGate.
So are your employees, bosses, job applicants and customers always honest with you?
Their lies may not be as big as Richard Nixon’s, Bernie Madoff’s or Lance Armstrong’s, but more than likely you’re hearing a few tall tales.
“On any given day you may be lied to anywhere from 10 to 200 times,” says Pamela Meyer, author of “Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception.”
“And strangers lie three times in the first 10 minutes of meeting each other – remember that the next time you’re interviewing potential employees.”
Why do we do so much lying?
In simple terms, we are bridging the gap of who we really are and who we want to be, says Meyer.
For instance, we want to be the perfect boss, the perfect employee and/or the perfect spouse, but we aren’t.
We tell little white lies to make us appear that we are.
So how can you tell who’s an “Honest Abe” and who’s a liar?
First off, throw everything out the window you thought you knew about spotting a lie, and pay close attention to these 10 lie-detecting points:
1) There Is Truth In The Eyes
We’ve always been told that people who lie won’t look you in the eye, but that’s only half the story.
Experts say liars either make too little or too much eye contact.
So, if you’re sitting with someone who won’t make eye contact with you, be wary. She or he is probably spinning you a tall tale.
On the other hand, if that person is staring you down, you’re probably getting that same tall tale told to you.
2) Details, Details And More Details
Liars are extremely generous when it comes to giving you details. They’re trying to con you into believing them by overloading you with details.
This shows they’ve put a lot of thought into what they’re going to say and probably even rehearsed it in their head.
Honest people give more succinct answers, because they’re telling the truth and they don’t have to think about it.
They know the facts.
People who lie also use convoluted sentence structure, and qualifying language when giving you the details, like “to tell you the truth” or “I can say categorically.”
This quote from former President Richard Nixon hits the nail on the head when it comes to oversharing:
“I can say categorically that his investigation indicates that no one on the White House staff, no one in this administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident [the Watergate burglary]. What really hurts in matters of this sort is not the fact that they occur, because overzealous people in campaigns do things that are wrong. What really hurts is if you try to cover it up.”
Now that’s a mouthful!
3) Simple Explanations Can Be A Tell
While people who are lying overshare details, they tend to explain things in simple terms. Why?
“Our brains struggle to build a complex lie,” says Noah Zandan, CEO and founder of Quantified Communications,
Reason: Judgement and evaluation are complex things for our brains to compute. We have to keep it simple so we can repeat it if necessary.
4) Liars Tend To Speak Formally
Experts also point out that when people lie, they tend to use formal language.
They forgo “didn’t” for “did not” and “I’m” for “I am.” Doing this emphasizes a point they want you to believe.
Take for example, former President Bill Clinton’s quote “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” and Nixon’s quote “I was not lying. I said things that later on seemed to be untrue.”
5) Beware The 3rd Person
In an attempt to distance themselves from the lie they’re about to tell, fibbers avoid referring to themselves in their deceptive statement. They tend to talk more about others, often using the 3rd person point of view to disassociate from their lie.
Take for example what Lance Armstrong said when he was denying using performance enhancing drugs:
“Ok, you know, a guy […] in a Parisian laboratory opens up your sample, you know Jean Francis so and so, and he tests it […] And then you get a phone call from a newspaper that says we found you to be positive six times for EPO.”
But when he finally admitted to doping he said:
“All the fault and all the blame here falls on me. I viewed this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times. I made my decisions. They are my mistakes, and I am sitting here today to acknowledge that and to say I’m sorry for that.”
6) They Only Tell The Story One Way
Sure, people who lie give you a lot of details. But ask them to repeat their story in a different order, and they’ll often freeze.
They need to tell their story in the order they memorized it. They can’t tell it backward.
So if you are in doubt about someone’s honesty, ask them an unexpected question about something that happened in the middle of the story.
Then immediately ask another question about something from the beginning. It catches them off guard and they’ll have to think long and hard about it.
7) Listen For Those Negative Tones
Experts say when people lie, they tend to be more negative because they subconsciously feel guilty about lying.
An employee might say, “Sorry I’m late, but that stupid bus was late again. I hate riding it!” instead of “Sorry I’m late, my bus ran was running behind.”
Neuroscientists have shown our conscious mind provides 5% or less of our cognitive function, including communication. The other 95% occurs without our awareness.
Therefore, their guilt of lying comes out in their lie as anger.
8) It’s Really Hard To Fake A Smile
Want to know if an employee is fibbing?
Watch their face when they smile.
Is their whole face involved? Do they get crow’s feet when they smile? Do their cheeks raise up?
If yes, then you have an “Honest Abe” working for you.
If they smile with just their mouth and nothing else moves, you’re more than likely being lied to.
Believe it or not, most people can’t fake a smile.
“The timing will be wrong, it will be held too long, or it will be blended with other things,” explains Maureen O’Sullivan, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of San Francisco.
“Maybe it will be a combination of an angry face with a smile: you can tell because their lips are smaller and less full than in a sincere smile.”
9) Stalling By Repeating The Question
If you sit down with employee A and ask “Did you take credit for employee B’s work?” and employee A answers, “Did I take credit for employee B’s work? No I did not.”
They’re probably lying.
Repeating the question is a stalling tactic to give them time to come up with a believable tale.
10) Look For The Contradictions
Another sign of a lie, the person will contradict him- or herself.
The contradictions can be between a gesture and the voice, a gesture and words, the voice and words, the face and words, or actions and words.
And it’s all controlled subconsciously.
Someone who’s being dishonest could say, “It was Jenny’s responsibility to write the report,” and subconsciously, give a slight “no” head shake at the same time.
Or someone who’s usually very animated and a fast talker, is now sitting with her arms folded and speaking slowly. That’s another indication that the person is embellishing the truth.
To spot these inaccuracies, it helps to know the person and his or her mannerisms.
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While this article points out some valid points it is important to remember that people are as different as snowflakes. Many of these “Tells” can also occur due to unrelated events in an individuals life. These events may cause their subconscious to focus more on personal matters rather than the conversation you are engaging them in. The author mentions that “it helps to know the person and his or her mannerisms”, This statement couldn’t be more true but rely on the track record established by the individual and less on your skills as a human lie detector. This will not only make you more approachable but also encourage respect and honesty from them as well.
Renee Cocchi says
I agree with you. People are as different as snowflakes. Some people are extremely bad liars, and it’s easy to tell they’re lying. On the other hand, there are those who are extremely adept at lying and could beat a polygraph test.
While no one “Tell” indicates 100% of the time that someone is lying, knowing what the different behaviors are can alert managers to the fact a person might be lying. And yes, managers need to take into consideration the person’s past and present behaviors, and analyze them using the surrounding context. But if you do spot some behaviors that indicate someone isn’t being truthful, it’s a good idea to ask additional questions to try and get to the truth of the matter.
The post was very good and this response pointing out the difference in individual people was a very important point. People are different and you really have to know them to be able to pick up a change in their normal pattern. Some people by nature are very detail oriented and can turn a simple trip to the supermarket into an lengthy novel. This does not mean that what they are saying is a lie because it is so detailed. The key word to remember in the author’s response is “might be lying”. There is no tell that is sure a fire way of telling if someone is or is not lying. Not even if they display multiple tells can it be said that it truly indicates a lie. However, multiple tells should give you reason to doubt.
Wow, this is so one sided. like there are many factors to it. There are people as well who are not liars and are also struggling with telling the story because the counterpart is a skilled liar, or perhaps, this person has anxiety or is insecure. Also, some people will make you think you’re lying and you’ll end up believing it because grammatically, people can make others look bad, and normally, in a conversation, you won’t be able to say everything you want to say which can be taken advantage of. I mean, it is a great article but it needs a little bit more of contrast.
RICHARD DUTTON says
This is an interesting point of view that makes sense according to what I am experiencing at the moment. If I am reading what you said correctly, the person that is suffering from insecure and anxiety might be viewed as telling lies but actually they’re being honesty?
My husband smirks, if I ask him about cheating. He doesnt even realize he’s doing it. I always wondered. I asked him a question the other day, he didn’t want to answer so he smirked again. To me that’s the answer to all the years of wondering. What do you think? Any opinions?
Michelle Belaski says
Hire a private investigator, lol!
Dont really know. I’d say tho, he has no respect for you.
I’m dealing with what I’m sure is a liar. Trying to negotiate “with myself”how bad it is.
Sabina Mohan says
Thank you for putting up this list-and I agree with mostly all of them. I’m still confused about #3 though, can you explain that one a bit more? Because do you mean someone overshares, but then uses simple sentences to explain the lie? Besides #3, I’ve seen all of these behaviors exhibited first-hand with my tenants. They over-explain, never look me in the eye, get quiet when answering a question, repeat what they said again when asked a different question, get angry/defensive when they got caught. Your list is spot-on 🙂
Renee Cocchi says
I’m glad you liked the post. You can also think of it like this, keeping it simple is synonymous with keeping it vague. People who lie often achieve vagueness through “narrative confusion.” While they may give a lot of details using convoluted phrasing, their story isn’t strengthen by any of it. Instead the story is weakened because the details are non-specific and don’t add value to the story. The details are only to distract the listener from the fact the person is lying. People who are telling the truth are often very specific, because there’s no need to try to distract the listener with superfluous details.
Dr Amadou Sall says
Thanks very much for these very useful tips. They need to embeded in our daily way of interacting with people. Looking forward for more 🙂 on different topics
Renee Cocchi says
Thank you I’m glad you liked it!
Graciano Matos says
I have a problem with the idea of looking into the eyes. In my culture it is disrespectful to stare at someone, it can even be an invitation to fight. So careful there!
Renee Cocchi says
Normal eye contact during a professional conversation is very different from staring at someone. That’s why the article says an indication of lying is “too much” or “too little” eye contact. Normal eye contact isn’t confrontational, it’s polite.
I am the same way about looking someone in the eye, for a different reason. I almost never look people in the eye because it makes me uncomfortle. Something that must be from my childhood when I was extreamly extreamly shy and uncomfortable. I kinda still am shy now but I feel I over compensate for my shyness by being extreamly weird or annoying, I guess. I still dont look people in the eye to much.
K gem says
Hi. These are great tips but im persuaded by a women who I love that she is telling the truth when I have even seen contradictions in what she is saying. She is middle aged and acts like she is 20. I live with her and the husband and we have a thing for each other but nothing sexual. She is a bit naughty such as going to kiss me when her husband is nearby when she has had a drink. When she is sober its a bit different. She went on a cruise with her daughter recently and I cant get out of my head that she was ip to something. I think because we have been reslly close friends and she tells me she thinks about cheating on her husband and she is not attracted to him. I asked her and she has a problem looking at people anyway. Sometimes she would do the staring thing. She would fidget. She also started crying saying I dont know why you would think this of me and I have because she hasnt got the best behaviour. Need help to save my respect for her and my friendship
The one thing you didn’t cover is the reason for lying. It doesn’t always mean that a person is dishonest, but that they may be feeling shame or some other powerful emotion. Likewise they just may be poor communicators (it happens).
It is a little concerning that people may read this and decide they are now experts in detecting dishonesty in a person. I would submit that these indicators are, instead, a flag to let you know to probe deeper into the person to find out what they are all about and why they are uncomfortable with the conversation. This requires being open and willing to hear everything they need to say without reacting to it.
I am just an average person who stumbled upon this site while drinking my morning coffee. Actually that was a lie because I’m not sure exactly what an average person is or details but I guarantee no one uses that word to describe me in any way shape or form. To express my opinion, which is the whole point I’m guessing in having the option to respond, I feel like the information was just giving us all information to notice and identify. I don’t think she came across as stating any type of reference that these are sure fire signs of a liar. Nor do I think she strictly applied any of those body languages or mannerisms to being a thing that liars all do. What I am trying to express is that she was helping us identify certain common examples that liars tend to do when it comes to telling lies and feeling inner guilt subconsciouslyor something like that. I don’t think she was telling us to dissect our future employees and watch and listen for these signs to spot a liar. She was just trying to say that often there is a commonality anoungst liars mannerisms and dialect and the biggest giveaways that often occur by these liars when they do this, or such and such, often this follows or is associated with those common actions.
It’s more like you listening to that guy at s get together who is talking away and you start questioning what he is saying because it just sound like bs and there’s no point in confronting him on it. So you then notice that he is displaying the common styles that most liars do. You don’t plan to catch a liar daily but identifying one saves a lot of wasted time and effort into believing all that crap .
I have a hard time when people confront me about something because when I tell the truth I just have to smile I can’t stop it. Any ideas?
Renee Cocchi says
A lot of people have this problem and the only good advice I found was to have a behavioral substitute ready and practice it over and over and over again until it becomes habit.
Yes! This is me too! I’m not alone. I do a lot of things actually, when I’m telling the truth – but I’m not believed.
I’ll repeat the question.
I’ll also speak formally. I think it’s because I don’t want to send like a little whiney kid, “I didn’t! I swear!” Or I’m attempting to respect the seriousness of their belief. Through my laughing. It’s a mess.
I have found secure educated people lie when there is no reason to do so they are half lies part true part made up stories . I feel very disturbed when a potetial friend does this what should I do ?.. should i tell them that it is not completely true or is there a more subtle way of doing so ?
Renee Cocchi says
It depends on how big the lie is as to whether you want to confront someone. Think about it this way: Is it worth your time and their embarrassment if you confront them?
If yes, then the best advice I can give you is to try and present the situation in a way that the person can admit to the truth without looking guilty. Maybe you could say “Oh, that’s interesting. I heard …” and then hopefully they’ll feel guilty enough to tell the truth. This way you are giving them an out to say, “You’re right. I heard that too. I must have gotten it confused with something else.”
I hope that helps.
I like this article. Depending on the person, these could definitely give them away. In fact, I was lied to (and knew it at the time) and there are at least 3 of these tells that they showed. I can usually tell when someone is lying anyway, but it is helpful to know some common tells.
However, some people tend to look people in the eyes when they are talking to each other. It is polite, shows that you are paying attention and, personally, makes it easily to follow the conversation. I am always guilty of giving too many details. Not because I’m lying, but because I want to make sure that what I’m saying is understood. Often repeating the same thing but in different ways. When accused or threatened with punishment for something I didn’t do I usually will say “I did NOT!” Because I’m shocked, annoyed and disappointed that they would think I did whatever it was. Negative tones, I use them on a daily basis, it’s called depression. Repeating questions is something I do when I have gotten distracted from the conversation (thinking of personal problems, thinking about what to eat, etc.) and I’m not sure I heard it right, which usually I didn’t. Does make for some funny moments though.
As I said before though, all of the above can definitely be tell signs. It’s more about how well you know the person and their usual behavior.
Calvin Dawson says
I have a question. when people are lying they often think stuff like -” NO, if i say that he may think that i am lying but it may also make him think that I am telling the truth as why would I say something so unbelievable to a smart person like him” and so on. My question is how many times do people who are lying usually ( I cant find the correct word for it i will just use the word ” contradict”) contradict themselves like the example I gave earlier. (i would appreciate it if you would give me the word i wasnt able to find earlier too)
Thank you 🙂
Well usually I think “Wow this is boring are they even gonna even figure it out? Last time they didn’t so I guess I’m good” being that I can lie so easily that nobody (except for my mother and uncle who can also lie this well) can figure it out. Usually I lie so they don’t get hurt or worry about me.
I’ve heard of another “tell” to determine if someone is lying. They tend to hide their hands from you and don’t let you see them. I’ve noticed that someone lying to me might keep their hands under the table or behind their backs while we’re talking. I tested this on someone that I wasn’t sure about and it turned out to be true that she was deceiving me about something, or not telling me the whole story.
You can always tell if someone is lying to you in a job interview.
Their lips move.
Mike Fletcher says
In some cultures it is confrontational to have eye contact period, particularly for women talking to men. “Normal eye contact” in this case would be not meeting the eyes at all.
Can someone please tell me the term when someone jokingly tells the truth in order to cover a lie.
Example. I robbed a bank but I tell someone ” it’s not like I was robbing that bank at 3:00am”
Is there a term for this?
Another way people is when they tell you something and then say “Don’t tell anyone that I told you this.” It’s pretty obvious that they don’t want to exposed as the leaker of information or a rumor. A friend of mine did that frequently, and a few years later, I found that much of what she told me were lies.
Mike Haseler says
Just been reading a lot of research on detecting lies – and what you’ve written is dangerous bullshit.
In short a big lie.
E.g. “Liars are extremely generous” the actual research shows a marginal increase in detail for expected questions and a significant reduction in details for unexpected questions. However it also shows cultural differences in the level of details. So you’d be making a clearly false statement if you suggest that as an “Absolute Giveaways That Someone Is Lying To You”
In many ways I agree with this. To say that any given “tell” is an indication that someone “might” be lying in misinformation and in not helpful at all. It leads people to believe that if they detect any of these tells then the person might be lying. The probability is just as high that they might not be lying. Because there is no definitive way to detect a lie, it is pointless to provide people with information that might or might not detect one. You might as well just flip a coin. As pointed out elsewhere in the comments, not even a polygraph that can be certain to detect a lie. Furthermore, polygraphs work but explaining what the question is up front. Then going over the question in detail to the point that the subject fully understands the question and what is implied and what is truth and what is false – a lie. The polygraph administrator ensure the subject fully understand what the subject in their own mind would consider truth or falsehood. Then the question is asked while being hooked to the machine which in-turn detect a change in physical parameters such as pulse, breath etc. If you can control your bodies natural reaction on this, you can control what the polygraph is going to detect. If the subject is amoral, it is pointless to even bother trying.
I agree that this article is dangerously misleading as well. I have been studying with deception detection specialists for government agencies and their neuroscientists. Check out Bill Clinton‘s youtube between his lying and confessing. The eyeblinks and physical tells are all contrary. Physical tells indicate nervousness, nothing more . NOTHING more. That is old thinking from the 1950‘s and it‘s used by law enforcement to do confirmation biased interrogation which elicits false Confession. Nervousness makes cops think the physical tells indicate lying which leads to a confirmation biased feedback loop like the Othello effect. People get falsely imprisioned- hence the Innocence Project. This is terribly contradictory and dangerous. The points about the content, the cognitive load of telling a story backwards- those are more accurate. NLP is not science based. Liars being nervous doesn‘t mean nervous people are lying.
Lol. Thank you so much. All these comments on articles like these are alarming. I’m convinced )even more) that nobody ever gets a fair trial.
I think class and power probably have way way more to do with being able to talk period, and be believed. That’s totally left out of the discussion.
Megan C says
I think what the author is saying in a nutshell, is that for the most part, when someone is lying, they will display gestures and mannerisms contradictory to THEIR normal accustomed responses or body language. The subtle differences vary with the aforementioned liar’s ability to be deceptive. I think that’s absolutely true. For the most part my instincts rarely betray me. If you have that feeling, chances are your right.
Staffan Bengtsson says
I googled this and found this list. As far as I concern, most of these points would trigger on an autistic person every time. People with aspergers find looking someone in the eyes to be very uncomfortable and tend to have a different speech structure. Since they are often misunderstood and have a different way of feeling/perceiving reality they will not be able to give “simple” answers, especially not when under pressure, because the differences in them and the listener is complicated by default.
Some of the most skilled lies I have come across actually seem to truly believe what they are saying.
I.e. It seems they lie to themselves first and then the rest becomes easy.
And even though what they are saying is quite ridiculous ‘on paper’, 95% of people still believe them. Any thoughts on how to spot one of those?
Being fooled is easier if someone is nice, primes by disarming you in ways known or assumed to appeal to you (compliments, asking about your kids)- also goodlooking, tall, churchgoing, expensive clothes wearing- these are all things that can fool our Type 1 thinking into believing things. These are things that our Type 2 thinking analysis, on paper unbelievable, would disbelieve. (Type 2 is slower, analytical – what do I think vs Type 1 how do I feel?) In his book on the topic, Daniel Kahneman says that we as people tend to substitute the quick conclusion based on feeling without noticing that the substitution has been made. It‘s worthwhile to make certain what you believe and ask yourself- so someone else manipulative doesn‘t define that for you.
Donna Ross says
I have a good one.Someone who is lying always talk louder than usual as if they want you to hear their story but you are trying to ignore them.They just want attention.THEY are doing a lot of talking but there is nothing to listen to.
Deborah Phillips says
I have one co-worker who stutters badly and will repeat herself over and over in some instances. Then other times they don’t stutter or repeat at all.
Now that a few years have passed I look back and realize when they behaved this way, they were telling lies and/or trying to have their way.
I used to think that stuttering was always a speech defect and that repeating yourself was an act of unbridled nervousness.
Now I know that sometimes it is done to manipulate and bully.
I HAVE LEARNED TO PAY BETTER ATTENTION TO BEHAVIORS.
Most of the “tells” mentioned can reflect a real attempt to communicate thoroughly. I don’t think the signs provide much helpful guidance BUT they do provide an interesting beginning point or point of departure for further discussion. Thanks sorta
I’m one of those exceptions… I use “honestly” and “to tell you the truth” as a habit. When I am accused of something that is false, I am very empatic when I deny it. My mother used to say that she knew when I was telling the truth because I was so emphatic about it. I don’t like these types of generalizations, because too often, people see it as black and white. I think there are other, more telling clues. Things like, when someone’s body language is the opposite of their comment (i.e. saying yes, but shaking their head no.) With my husband, his eyes dilate when he is not being truthful.
Chad Painter says
Very informative and unfortunately very useful in society. I would like to know if any one agrees with this being such a normal function with people? I personally have learned the effects of this trait and refuse to do so. Lying takes up far to much space and time for both sides of the coin. At least in my shoes, I get stuck on oddities for lack of a better term and then it will play over and over in my head. Once something happens that I view relating to or fitting the oddity it finally stops. With this I let people know my feelings on lying and avoid doing so. Lying violates the very core of our “civilized world” and it’s already weak foundation. Communicating complex ideas through the use of language. Language being the tool in which gave the ability to build, lying is the tool being used to tare it all down.
Ron Powers says
This is the most stupid article I suffered reading. Many of the examples is also done by people telling the truth. It lacks as well any good examples on interpersonal behavior. For instance, if someone is not sincere in really thanking you for something, or even hates, they will thank by turning their back on you and walking away while saying it.
These supposed tells are typical of people with autism or anxiety or other neuro diversities. This is very dangerous and will condemn many honest people.
Jay Davis says
I am sure people sometimes are conflicted by the right and left brain. One emotionally wanting to not answer and the left brain thinking up something. I asked a guy if he was circumcised and surely he knows, but there was a long hesitancy. I assume he struggles with sexual frankness ,but also will after think about it come through. If in fact he deferred by non of your business or walked away that would say something about his personality. Social psychology is fascinating.
Hmm, I liked the article but you have to be careful about creating a list like this. People tend to think of lists as absolute and then don’t take into consideration personality types that may include possible mental diagnosie such as asbergers. People with asbergers have difficulty with eye contact, have difficulty not overloading with a lot of detail, fake much of their postures and ticks and facial expressions because they try to do what they think is expected in that scenario which could come off as robotic or rehearsed. Some people without mental diagnosie act the same way or similar. Just using that one as an example. Just throwing that out there. Sometimes the simple act of asking someone if they are lying tells you more than looking for cues or hints, doesn’t it. Just a thought. This is similar to that saying about if people look a certain direction…left or right or up or down then they are lying. Not always true, synesthesia for example…people with that might be looking at a list of facts and reciting them to you. They may “see” the list on the right or the left or up or down. Very slippery subject this is.. Just ask the person, see how they react, take everything you know into consideration and trust your gut.
I worked 11 years with a guy that yawned every time he lied. For me it was very easy to know he was lying.