You may think this is an odd topic for me to write about, but it all started with a personal experience that caused me to educate myself about lying. It caused me to do research.
Early one morning about seven months ago, I was greeted with an email notification that one of my credit cards was used in Chicago. Someone I’ve never met checked into a hotel and ate at a restaurant, using my money.
I immediately contacted the credit card company, but it was too early in the morning and no one answered the phone, so I moved to Plan B and called the hotel directly.
Turns out, that was a brilliant move. A night clerk named Christine answered. I told her there was a guest in her hotel using my card.
Total silence on the other end of the phone.
Then slowly and with a little excitement she said, “You know what? I think I know who it is!”
She went on to tell me about a young man who had checked in and how she felt something was “off” about him, so she asked him for extra identification.
Here’s the part of this story I love.
This thief had no idea he was handing his fake credit card to someone trained in how to spot a lie. Christine used to work at a bank — where she was known as “The Fraud Queen”!
Christine checked, and sure enough, that was the guy who had used my credit card number!
When the police came, they found his room unoccupied. Most likely, he never went to the room — he got spooked and fled. He sensed Christine The Fraud Queen was on to him.
No harm was done, the proper reports were filed, and the credit card charges were reversed. Everything turned out fine.
But how did Christine pick up that he was being deceptive?
TWO OR MORE IN THE FIRST 5 SECONDS
Have you watched someone on TV denying wrongdoing while you study their face and gestures to see if you believe them?
Probably! It’s human nature.
Or have you listened to a child who swears “his brother did it?”
Or maybe you noticed your gut response when your employee told a story explaining the missing inventory.
Here’s what research says.
No single behavior is a stand alone indicator that someone is not telling the truth. A nervous person can exhibit the same behaviors as someone who is lying, such as a change in voice pitch, touching the face or tapping the fingers or feet.
However, generally speaking, if two or more behaviors come within the first 5 seconds in response to an inquiry, it’s an indicator to pay attention and ask further questions.
HER GUT TOLD HER
Christine, the desk clerk, said her first hint about the guy standing in front of her was that she simply felt in her gut that something was “off.” He probably did at least a couple of unconscious things in the first few seconds of meeting her that she picked up on.
Did you know that humans who are trained to detect lies are often 90% accurate — even better than machines! Christine is probably one of those, bless her heart!
How can you tell someone is lying?
Below is a partial list of behaviors associated with lying. The list is compiled from a number of sources.
See how many of these you recognize and rely on.
WHAT LIARS DO
1. They fail to deny.
A person who is lying may not directly say “I didn’t do it.” In a verbal, in-person conversation, they don’t give a definitive “no.”
Instead, they say things like “I would never do that…”
Susan Smith made national headlines way back in 1995. She strapped her children into her car and pushed the car into a lake. Then she ran frantically to the police saying that someone had carjacked her.
During questioning, she initially fooled the officers. But when pressed, she never actually answered yes or no to the question, “Did you do this? Did you drown your children?”
Instead, she said, “I love my children, I would never hurt my children, why would I ever hurt my children?”
2. They don’t answer your specific question.
They are evasive. (Think politics here.)
They elaborate on something related or make another point they want to make that you didn’t ask about. They try to distract you from your question by leading you in a direction more advantageous to them.
They turn your question into an opportunity to say what they want to say.
3. They throw in qualifiers.
They hedge by using exclusionary qualifiers such as “not really, in general, categorically speaking, as far as I can remember…”
Or they throw in perception qualifiers such as “honestly, frankly, to tell you the truth…”
When someone offers a qualifier, ask a question about the qualifier.
If you ask your child, “Do you have homework?” and your child says “No, not really…” that response begs for another question.
If a politician or company CEO answers a question using the phrase “categorically speaking” it’s a big red flag.
4. They become aggressive.
They show contempt. They get angry. They verbally attack the questioner or a third party.
For example, your boyfriend yells, “Why don’t you ever trust me???”
Or an upstanding citizen (turned embezzler) becomes enraged and outspoken at the audacity of being questioned. Pay attention when someone shows contempt for having their “spotless reputation” challenged.
5. They demonstrate an inappropriate level of concern.
A person who is lying shows emotion inconsistent with the events in question.
On a recent episode of “Bull” (Mr. Bull is played by Michael Weatherly) his character was asked, “How did you know she was lying?”
His simple answer, “Wrong emotion…”
I did a fair amount of research for this subject, by the way, and watched a few videos that I would never normally be drawn to. But I was learning, so I watched to see if I could understand more about the indicators of when someone is lying.
One was a video of a woman who killed her children. As she retold the story, she described the entire incident without emotion. She stated facts only and her facial expression changed very little as she was describing how her children had died. (She seemed very calm, and it was strange…)
You may recall a story from 2005 that made headlines about a man named Scott Peterson who was eventually convicted of murdering his pregnant wife Laci.
Prior to his conviction, however, in an interview with Diane Sawyer, she said, “Well, Scott, what everybody in America wants to know is — did you murder your wife?”
Scott’s answer was “No, no, I did not. I had absolutely nothing to do with her disappearance.”
Then comes the telltale part.
He paused and took a breath and said to Diane, “You used the word murder…”
He actually smiled slightly as he said the word “murder.”
He went on to say a few more things, and repeated to Diane “you used the word murder” and he smiled again, and the second smile was bigger. (I watched it. It was creepy, I have to say.)
Similarly, there are famous photos of O. J. Simpson smiling gleefully during the court proceedings.
Smiles that show an inappropriate level of concern speak volumes.
6. They use more than the average number of anchor point gestures (feet, hands, arms) or grooming gestures.
They adjust their tie, brush hair back, look at their watch, scratch their nose, tap their fingers or move their feet.
During the stress of telling a lie, blood vessels constrict, which can cause skin discomfort.
7. They try to convince rather than convey.
Instead of simply conveying information, a person telling a lie tries to convince us they are a good person. They say things like “I’m a good worker.”
Or they say “I have a good reputation at work and people trust me.”
They use convincing language to tell us why we should believe they didn’t do it.
8. They offer little or no eye contact or too much eye contact.
They may avoid your gaze or they may look directly into your eyes to try to convince you and see if you’re buying their story.
Bill Clinton looked directly into the camera and shook his right finger when he denied having sex with Monica Lewinsky.
9. They speak formally.
They don’t use contractions. Again, think about Bill Clinton when he said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman…”
10. They distance themselves from the incident or the victim.
To distance themselves from the incident, they might say something as simple as “the car crashed” instead of “I crashed my car.”
Another way to distance is to depersonalize or dehumanize. Dehumanizing others is the process by which we become accepting of violations against human nature.
One more time, let’s go back to the Bill Clinton’s statement. He referred to Monica Lewinsky as “that woman.” Not calling Monica by her name was a way to depersonalize.
Humans are wired to protect each other, love each other. In order to do damage to another human and then lie about it, a person must override this wiring to make their victim “less human.”
Making Monica “less of a person” made Bill Clinton’s actions more acceptable to him.
(In light of more recent events, think Harvey Weinstein and Bill O’Reilly, who deny accusations outright, but have a long history of depersonalizing practices, according to news sources.)
11. Their eyes blink too often or they look up to the right.
The eyes are truly the window to the soul.
Research shows that someone who is lying may not blink at all during the lie, and then blink up to 8 times more often than normal right after the lie.
Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) has shown that when people remember or recall something, they look up to the left. If they are making something up (fabricating a story) they may look up to the right.
Someone who is lying usually looks up to the right more often.
12. The pupils dilate.
No person can control the size of his/her pupils, so this is very helpful. This is often detected on a replay of an interrogation video, because it can’t easily be seen in “real time.”
13. They repeat your exact words and get very specific when responding.
They say, “No, I did not do (this) at (that time) with (this person).
14. Their gestures and words don’t line up.
They nod yes while saying no or vice versa.
15. They offer story details except where the lie is.
They tell a story in great detail, but quickly gloss over the parts where they did something they feel guilty about.
16. They tell their story in question in strict chronological order.
Someone who commits a crime often memorizes how to tell the story so it makes perfect sense to the police.
Did you know this? (I didn’t.) Professional lie detectors sometimes ask the person in question to tell their story backwards in order to fluster or stress them, or skip around in the details enough to confuse them and cause them to contradict themselves.
What’s so different about someone being honest?
A truth teller would naturally tell a story by recalling the most emotionally significant parts first and filling in the other less important details later.
17. They unconsciously place an object between you and them.
It can be something small and simple, like a book, handbag, or set of keys.
18. They invoke religion.
They use statements such as “I swear to God, I swear on a stack of bibles…”
19. They tell the truth enough to make you think they are a good person and you should believe them.
They give you helpful, useful information, information you aren’t aware of but didn’t ask for, in an attempt to build trust. They hope their truth telling sways you or blinds you to the parts they are lying about.
An employee attempting to justify the “rightness” of his/her actions may do this to appear forthcoming and cooperative, to lead you away from suspecting them of something they’ve done.
There you have it! I hope this list is useful in business or personally. I know you’re going to think about this list next time you are given the opportunity to decide if someone is fibbing.
At the very least, understanding how to read a possible lie is a helpful skill to have in your back pocket. You never know when it might come in handy.