How to Tell When Someone's Lying
Your boss tells you, "You're doing a good job." Do
you believe him? You are interviewing a candidate
for a job. She says, "I left my previous job,
because I was tired of the long commute." Your
romantic partner tells you, "I am not having an
It's easier than you think to become a human lie
Look for Suspicious Behaviors
By themselves, each of these behaviors can just
be signs of stress, or even a person's natural
mannerisms. One can occur by chance, but when two
or more of these behaviors suddenly appear at a
moment when lying could be expedient. For example,
when you ask a salesman how reliable that used car
is, it suggests he's lying.
Here's the top eight list of suspicious
- A change in the voice's pitch.
- A change in the rate of speech.
- A sudden increase in the number of "ums" and
- A change in eye contact. Normally, one makes
eye contact one-quarter to one-half of the time.
If suddenly, at the convenient moment to lie,
he's staring at you or looking away,
- Turning his body away from you, even if just
- Suddenly being able to see the white on the
top and bottom of a person's eyes, not just the
- A hand reaching, even if momentarily, to
cover part of the face, especially the
- Nervous movement of feet or legs.
Of course, in order to notice a change, you need
a baseline. So you must first watch the person when
talking about innocuous issues.
A Mixed Signal
Also look for mixed signals. When someone's
telling the truth, her words, her face and her body
language are all congruent. For example, if a
person is honestly saying that she likes you, her
face is usually relaxed, offering a gentle smile
and warm eyes. Her body is calm and open. But when
she's lying, something is usually inconsistent. In
the most obvious case, she may be saying she likes
you, but she's not smiling. She may even have a
clenched fist. Better liars can muster a smile, but
it doesn't look natural. Even better liars can put
on a convincing smile, but their eyes aren't
smiling. Still better liars can control their
entire face, but their bodies seem closed or cold.
Look for mismatches between words and body
When you've gotten a signal -- a change in body
language or a mixed signal that the person may be
lying -- ask for more information about the same
topic. Are those same lying signs apparent? That
can confirm your suspicion.
Of course, there's no foolproof way to detect
lying. Some people are terrific at covering
themselves up, especially if they are naturally
emotionally flat or have practiced their lying
skills over many years -- certain political leaders
come to mind. But if you look for behavior changes
and mixed signals at lying-expedient moments, you
will improve your BS detector.
© 2010, Marty
* * *
Nemko holds a PhD from the University of
California, Berkeley, and subsequently taught in
Berkeleys Graduate School of Education. He is
the worklife columnist in the Sunday San Francisco
Chronicle and is the producer and host of Work With
Marty Nemko, heard Sundays at 11 on 91.7 FM in
(NPR, San Francisco), and worldwide on
400+ of his published writings are available free
on that website and is a co-editor of
Careers for Dummies.
and author of The All-in-One College Guide.
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