If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything’ – Mark Twain
It’s no big secret that when people lie they can often unconsciously give themselves away by their suspicious body language.
They often try to hide their mouth with their hand or cover up another part of their body, usually a vulnerable part like their throat or neck.
Other common ‘tell tale’ signs (pun intended) include avoiding eye contact or staring without blinking, an increase in hand movement (especially pointing), overly fidgeting, playing with hair, tugging at clothes, sweating or blushing. Sometimes people even go so far as to stand with their feet away from you and facing the door (like they want to make a quick escape)…and this also often sit in a way that allows them to pinpoint their belly button in the direction of the door. They want to escape !
But did you know that, as well as non verbal communication (NVC), the actual words people use can also give them away?
In fact, word and language analysis can often be far more useful than anything else in figuring out if someone is lying, and can also tell us a whole lot more useful information besides.
So how does it work?
The average person has a vocabulary of about 20,000 to 25,000 words so when they speak, in a split second, they have to consider which nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, prepositions, interjections and conjunctions to use, in what order and in which tense.
Luckily for those of us skilled in the art of ‘deception detection’ we know that when someone is being dishonest, it disrupts this lightening quick and delicate pattern, and we know the tell tell signs to watch out for!
It takes a little time and practice but here are my top 7 signs to watch out for to help ensure no one ever successfully ‘pulls the wool over your eyes’ again.
1. Hesitation equals trepidation
A hesitation of any sort usually indicates a thought process disruption event of some kind. So when someone hesitates or unduly pauses over answering a simple question it is definitely a sensitivity indicator worthy of ‘red flagging’ for further exploration and analysis.
The thing to remember here is that liars often make up their lie as they go along and the pause could well be them trying to quickly come up with a plausible story in real time!
Sometimes the hesitation can even turn into a full scale stutter, and they might even completely change their tone of voice (especially if they suddenly now have a very dry throat!).
2. Diverting and avoiding the question
This is a pretty obvious form of deception and one we sadly see all to often in everyday life, especially in the guileful world of politics.
In fact it even has a special name: Stonewalling.
People naturally try and avoid uncomfortable questions and will frequently employ evasive measures and strategies to distance themselves as much as possible from either having to tell an outright lie or forced to tell the painful truth.
3. Searching for the right words
Sure some people occasionally take longer choosing the right words than others, but not always, and for most people it’s pretty rare unless they are stressed out or really put on the spot.
So, the thing to watch out for with this one is context (and if you can, first establish a ‘normal’ baseline).
For example, someone who has just gone for a walk and lost their beloved pet dog won’t care about choosing exactly the right words to explain what happened, when and where. They just want to get ALL the information out as quickly as possible so that they can get assistance in finding their pooch.
But someone telling a big whopping lie about what has really happened to their dog probably wouldn’t!
Get the picture?
4. Providing unnecessary details
When most people tell a story about some normal everyday event they often omit the most obvious details.
For example, we take it for granted that when someone says to you that they ‘drove to work’ we automatically assume that they left their home, locked it up, got in their car, started it up (with a key), reversed down their drive, put in it into the right gear and then drove to work etc.
Be aware then that when someone gives far too much detail that they may well be hiding or making something up.
Incidentally, a little tip here is that if you suspect someone has told a tall tale you can always try and get them to repeat their story after a short break. If they were lying the story may well have changed a little since they first told it!
5. Over use of the verb ‘Would’
For some strange reason when people are telling big porkers they often insert the word ‘would’ or ‘wouldn’t’ and ‘but’.
It’s probably down to distancing and denial language and the disruption effect on experiential memory that telling naughty little fibs creates in us all.
Here’s how it works.
An honest athlete might say;
‘I never use performance enhancing drugs’
But a doping cheater may say…..
‘I would never use performance enhancing drugs’
See what a big difference just one word makes!
Or Classic signs are using ‘but’ so “I know you don’t believe me BUT’ “ You’re going to think I’m lying BUT”.
Look for the words!
7. Qualifying words that weaken statements
Okay, so what is a qualifying word?
It’s a word that ‘modifies’ another word (or words), and for our purposes here generally weakens them.
‘I left my wallet at home’
sounds a lot more convincing than….
‘I think I left my wallet at home’….which sounds like a much weaker assertion!
Note: Also watch out for sentence add-ons and extras such as; ‘believe me’, ‘trust me’, ‘honestly’ and the classic ‘to tell you the truth’ – these along with being overly repetitive should definitely get your spider senses tingling’.
So there you have it; 7 very simple but effective ways to spot if someone is lying to you. One word of caution, don’t run away with yourself though, you have to put all these points together and work from a baseline. Just because someone may have used one of the top tips above, doesn’t necessarily mean they are lying. You need to apply all the tips in context.