But how do you spot a lie in action, as it happens, in the heat of the moment? Here are a few ways that might just lead you to discover that the silky smooth words playing upon your earlobes may be a little less than totally reliable. Let us count down!
1) Don’t accuse too soon
You are much more likely to catch someone out in a lie if you…give them a chance to lie. Let them talk. Ask them innocently what they were doing, who was there, and whether they enjoyed themselves. See how keen they are to discuss things about which you suspect they may be lying. Sit back and listen. And that’s another thing…
2) Don’t look. Listen!
People are better at spotting lies when they read them or listen to someone on the radio than when they watch someone on TV. An accomplished liar will be aware that they are expected to fidget, avert their eyes, and so on. These things can be consciously controlled. People may even be more likely to gaze directly at you whilst telling a lie.
Researchers have found that liars will tend to use fewer words when describing something about which they’re lying. If you’re lying, the more information you give, the more likely some of it will come back to bite you in the…near future. If someone normally tells you all and everything about stuff but suddenly is much less talkative (or just keeps repeating the same small amount of info), that could signal they speak with forked tongue.
3) Watch for personal distancing
People will tend to distance themselves from lies by referring to themselves less when they’re telling them. The liar may use fewer personal pronouns like: “me, I, myself, and mine”. So if someone were to lie to you that the home-knitted trousers you made them for Christmas are just the ticket, they might say something like: “Yes, they’re lovely. How did you find time to make them? They’ll be very useful for impressing people at important social events!” Notice that they didn’t refer to themselves at all here.
Someone who genuinely likes your car might say: “I really love it. I can’t wait to drive it to the club, heads will turn.” Here, the person associates themselves much more with what they are saying and also uses emotional words to express their connection to what they’re telling you.
4) Watch for over-rehearsal
Most of us forget stuff. In the course of a conversation when describing something that happened, we might forget a name here, the time something happened there, who said what, and so on. This is natural.
We’re more likely to be a bit vague when we’re telling the truth, especially during a casual conversation. A bit of umming and arring might actually point towards someone being honest rather than lying. Most of us don’t remember lots of trivial details and the more honest you are, the more likely you are to admit that you’ve forgotten stuff. Liars, on the other hand, suddenly develop superhuman powers of recall for unimportant information when you ask them questions about what you suspect might be a lie.
Ask yourself: does all this seem too well-prepared?
5) Watch for subject changes
It’s generally more comfortable for people to tell the truth than lie. Does this person jump at the chance to change the subject so as to relieve the tension? Test for this by changing the subject suddenly and see if they seem desperate or even relieved to, instead, talk about the weather, Uncle Charlie’s new lawnmower, or anything else for that matter. Switch back to the previous topic and see if they then try to veer off it again. Do they seem overly keen to talk about something else?
But remember: if you obviously disbelieve them, they might want to talk about something else because of your (to them) unjustified suspicions. So remember Tip 1.
6) Look out for defensiveness
If you habitually disbelieve someone, they may habitually feel defensive when you ask them about stuff. But if they seem overly reactive and you haven’t been aggressively interrogating them or obviously disbelieving, then that might indicate they are:
• Stressed because they are lying.
• Using emotional distraction via a smokescreen to veer conversation away from the lying onto how awful you are.
7) Are you being lied to silently?
Remember that a liar can lie to you as much by what they don’t tell you as by what they do. If you suspect someone is lying by omission, then ask them: “I feel as if I haven’t got the whole picture here somehow…” This is good because it doesn’t accuse them directly, but it gives you a further chance to see their reaction. Do they dismiss this out of hand and try to change the subject (which may indicate a guilty conscious) or do they genuinely show interest in why you would think that?
8) Give them a let out clause
If you feel the lie is about something important, then look for external validation of what they are saying. Without hiring a private eye, check, if you can, that they were with Fred last night and not with the sultry blonde from the office.
For some liars, it may be almost a relief to come clean. If you’re pretty sure they are fibbing, then confront them. But rather than: “You are such a liar!”, take responsibility for your own doubts: “I’m having real trouble believing this!” Then tell them exactly why you don’t believe them.
They may try to reassure you or become angry because you doubt them (and both reactions could be a sign of lying or not lying). Tell them that you’d rather hear the truth because none of this makes sense to you. Resist the temptation to hurl accusations, which can be used by them to change the subject onto how you never believe them. Even if they don’t admit the lie at this point, it’s enough that they know you are doubtful.
So to spot a lie, you need to:
• Listen to how much they say – if they’re not saying much about something, they may be lying to you.
• Listen for how much they distance themselves from what they’re saying by not connecting to it with “I, me, myself, mine…” Also, do they describe how they feel about what they’re discussing? – Not using feeling words may be further evidence of self-distancing.
• Notice whether they’ve suddenly developed a super-memory for lots of details about which you’d normally expect someone to be naturally vague.
• Notice if they seem over-eager and relieved to change the subject.
• Pay attention to whether they’re overly defensive.
• Remember that not being told important stuff is still a lie.
• Confront them when you are pretty sure you are being lied to. Give them the opportunity to come clean. And remember it helps to have external evidence that what they’ve told you is an untruth.
Finally, don’t feel bad about having been taken in by someone; as we’ve seen, telling if someone is lying isn’t as easy as we all assume it is. When you trust someone, you give them the opportunity to behave like a reasonable human being; if they then waste that opportunity that is a reflection of them, not you.
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