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How to Tell When Someone is Lying

by Staff | March 8, 2017

How-To Communication Skills

Where there are humans, there is lying.

Lies are abundant in society, occurring in workplaces, schools, within families, and in relationships. They range from the harmless white lie (that you often don’t even know you are doing) to the blatant manipulative lie meant for personal gain.

Lying is a common problem, not just with suspects in heinous crimes but also with people whom you trust and hold dearest.

Everyone must be a lie detective.

It is regrettable but unavoidable to occasionally be in a position of having to determine whether someone is lying or not.

  • For the stay-at-home mother, it could be something as innocuous as having to figure out which child used crayons to draw pictures of rainbows on the wallpaper in the hallway.
  • For professionals who deal in deception, however, it is usually much more serious.

How does professional lie detection work?

A variety of professions needs training and skills in behavior and deception. These professions include the obvious ones like police officers, criminal investigators, lawyers, and judges, as well as less obvious ones like therapists, customs officials, and mediators.

How do they do it? Well, the unfortunate fact is that there is no universal sign that can be relied upon 100% of the time to indicate that someone is lying. Even more difficult is that deception sometimes takes the form of concealment rather than outright falsification.

With that being said, there are certain signs and behavioral patterns that are more likely to be demonstrated by someone who is lying than someone who is being truthful.

What are they?

See these behaviors? They might be lying!

The act of lying involuntarily activates the sympathetic nervous system, causing changes that may be perceived by an outside observer.

These observable changes include an elevated heart rate, more rapid breathing, pale or flushed skin, dilatation of the pupils, and even shaking and sweating. These are the fight-or-flight signs!

It also takes EFFORT to concoct a lie (unless the lie was planned and prepared in advance). There are all the details to remember and keep straight, you have to make sure that your story is compatible with the facts that are already known, and then you have to somehow communicate the deception in a manner that seems natural and believable.

There are, not surprisingly, certain behaviors and speech patterns exhibited by someone who is actively making up and communicating a lie. The biggest “tell” is probably the contradiction:

TODAY THE CRIMINAL SUSPECT TOLD INVESTIGATOR J.B. THAT HE WAS “VISITING HIS GRANDMOTHER” ON THE NIGHT OF AUGUST 12. LAST WEEK HE TOLD INVESTIGATOR R.D. THAT HE WAS “CAMPING WITH SOME COLLEGE BUDDIES” THE NIGHT OF AUGUST 12.

Other verbal signs that are shown by someone concocting a lie are frequent pauses, speaking slowly, and hesitating before answering.

What about non-professionals? Is there any hope?

Most people don’t have the luxury of formal interrogation sessions. When deception by a friend, colleague, or loved one is a possibility, they must rely upon more informal methodologies.

Additionally, while the above-described signs and patterns can certainly be shown by the other person, it can be difficult for an inexperienced observer to detect them.

Take the following example:

Susan is a 56-year-old woman who has been married for 25 years. She suspects that her husband, Mark, is having an affair with a co-worker. Mark has been working late hours on a new project, which is out of character for him. For most of his career, he has valued family time and always made a point to come home in time for dinner.

What are the ways that Susan can find out if Mark is having an affair?

1. She can come out and ask him directly. If she chooses this method, she must be prepared to encounter the possibility of deception.

2. She can talk to his boss or other co-workers. If not handled well, this method might be embarrassing to her and Mark if he really is working late on a project.

3. She can show up at his workplace. Although this method would certainly reveal her answer, it would show her husband that she doesn’t trust him.

4. She can contact the woman she suspects is having an affair with him. Again, this method could be embarrassing.

An indirect and non-threatening way to find out if someone is lying.

Here is a method that can inspire a liar to reveal the truth. The example of Susan and Mark will be used. Note: This method only works for adults!

  • Invite the person you suspect is lying to a night out on the town.
  • Tell them the night is to celebrate some event happening in their life.
  • Take them to their favorite bar, club, or restaurant where alcohol is served.
  • Get them nice and relaxed with a delicious meal, pleasant conversation, and a couple glasses of their favorite wine, beer, or cocktail.
  • If they dance, get them out on the dance floor to lighten the mood.
  • Find a quiet place for conversation, perhaps a walk in a nearby park.
  • Start by talking about a topic they enjoy, such as a hobby or travel destination.
  • Very carefully, begin to steer the conversation towards the topic of concern.
  • Keep the tone light, playful, and non-threatening.
  • Make it seem as though there are no repercussions to the truth.
  • Laugh and smile playfully.
  • Gently pull out the truth from the other person. If they are relaxed and comfortable, the threshold for honesty will be greatly lowered, and they will feel inspired to be honest.

Susan took out Mark to his favorite seafood restaurant where she knew they served excellent craft beer. She told him the night was to treat him because he had been working so hard. After dinner, during which he drank three beers, she proposed a walk in the quaint town. Mark didn’t feel up to driving quite yet and was fine taking a stroll. She began by asking about the antique dresser he had been restoring for the past couple months. He was proud of this piece and immediately began talking about it. She smiled, grabbed his arm, and told him what a great job he was doing with it. He seemed very relaxed. She then gently mentioned how she was also proud of him for working so hard at his job. She paused and put her arms around him, gazing into his eyes. She smiled at him, as innocently as possible, and said with a laugh, “I’m not even jealous of Karen—or should I be?” That’s when Mark, with a guilty look on his face, sighed and began talking.

Suspect someone in your life may be lying?

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