Assume for a moment you’re having a discussion with someone and you believe they’re lying to you, however you’re not certain. If you’re Ethan Hunt, from ‘Mission Impossible’ you could just reach for a dose of Sodium Pentothal. Or if you’re the superhero, Wonder Women, you can tie them up in your Golden Lasso.
More than likely you don’t have those options and you’re like the rest of us, confused. It’s annoying and frustrating when someone lies, so who wouldn’t love being able to spot it happening? Although it’s not always possible to tell when someone is lying, most people will unconsciously give clues that they’re not telling the truth. Once you know what to look for, you can decide whether to ask more questions, check another source, or simply disbelieve what you hear. All you need to do is think of the word LIES as an acronym for Look, Intensity, Explanation, and Speed.
This reminds you to check the other person’s nonverbal communication. If a liar is concentrating on what he or she is saying, it’s likely that they’ll pay less attention to their posture and facial expression. In normal conversation, people tend to face each other, usually at a slight angle. It’s unusual to see two people facing each other directly, with their shoulders completely parallel. That kind of stance usually implies disagreement or confrontation. Most people unconsciously make eye contact with the other person when they begin to speak, then look away, then make eye contact again as they finish speaking. You use these cues without even realizing, which is why you don’t feel listened to when someone interrupts. They have heard your words but not picked up your nonverbal cues.
When someone tries to keep something from you, they’ll probably adopt concealing body language. This might mean turning away from you or putting their hands up to their face frequently, touching their mouth, ears, or eyes. Their pattern of eye contact may also change. When someone is trying to conceal the truth, they are anxious about whether they are believed, so will look more intently at the listener, trying to read their expression. They will look away when they finish talking, which is an unconscious acknowledgement that there are still things unsaid. On the other hand, someone who is trying to give false information will often adopt a more confrontational posture and hold eye contact longer at the end of speaking. This body language is a nonverbal challenge, unconsciously saying, “Don’t you believe me?”
Some interactions are more intense, powerful, and memorable than others. You remember some conversations for years, but forget others almost as soon as they’re over. A liar will either try to make you remember falsehoods or want you to forget their lies. Not only should you look at their body language, but also notice their tone of voice and choice of words. When someone is attempting to conceal the truth, they will often speak in a lower tone, perhaps mumbling or not completing sentences. They will use words like “perhaps,” “maybe,” or “might” — “I might have gone for a drink after work” rather than “I went for a drink after work.”
Low-intensity conversation can create the impression of communication without information, and leave you feeling dissatisfied. High-intensity communication, on the other hand, can overwhelm. It’s often a sign of someone who is trying to convince you of an untruth. They may speak noticeably more clearly, and will use definite words and phrases. They will often give extraneous details, such as times and places they normally wouldn’t notice or mention. They don’t want to be questioned, so they bombard you with information.
To spot when someone is lying, look out for how often they explain their own actions. This is another symptom of someone who doesn’t want to be questioned. The most common mistake liars make is to give unnecessary explanations. For instance, your partner often goes to the gym on the way home from work, but today he tells you that he went to the gym because he needed to work out after a stressful day, and anyway, he’s been thinking he should get fitter, plus he wants to make the best use of his membership. All this extra information might make you want to question why he’s giving reasons for doing something he’s never had to explain before. The person who is telling you a lie doesn’t want to be confronted, so they offer the explanation ahead of time.
Sometimes a liar will try to bluff their way through without any explanation. Perhaps they have bought you an expensive present when you know they have no money. When you ask how they can afford it, they become defensive and change the subject, asking why you don’t appreciate the gift, or telling you not to worry about it. A sudden lack of explanations is a warning that you’re not getting the whole truth.
In normal conversation, one person starts to speak just as the other one finishes, so that their voices overlap slightly. This happens unconsciously in response to nonverbal signals like eye contact. You don’t notice it happening, but you notice when it stops. This is why amateur actors reading a script sound stilted; they may say the words with feeling, but they will wait for the previous speaker to finish before they say their line. Someone who is making up lies, when challenged will hesitate before answering. This isn’t necessarily because they’re still trying to think of a reply, but because their attention is focused on what they’re going to say, and they miss the cue that it’s their turn to talk.
If a liar is expecting a confrontation and has rehearsed an explanation, they might reply promptly but give themselves away by the speed at which they talk. In normal conversation, the cadence of speech varies. This can be for emphasis, for clarity, or simply to give the speaker a chance to breathe. A rehearsed lie tends to be delivered at a consistent rate, usually faster than normal speech, and with fewer pauses for breath. Unconsciously, the liar is giving the message “I have this whole speech to say, and I just want to get to the end of it.”
Some liars are easier to spot than others. Pay attention to the way a person looks at you when speaking, the intensity of their speech, the explanations they volunteer, and the speed at which they speak. When you can see these LIES, you will be better equipped to determine whether someone is deliberately trying to deceive you.
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