Habits to Catch Liars

In my last blog post I promised to follow-up with an explanation of some habits you can develop to notice when people are not telling you the entire truth, or outright lying.

First, let’s consider some of the people who lie to you occasionally or often:

1.      Your unconscious self, which might onlyi be the accusing, negative voice inside you

2.      Your conscious self, who gets tempted either for selfish gain, laziness, or protection

3.      Spouse or special other

4.      Family or friends

5.      People in your work environment

6.      People you interact with outside of your work environment

7.      The media and people in the media, especially social media

Where should you start?

Start with the person you see most often in the mirror:  You.

The only person you can control 100% is you. This includes your unconscious and conscious selves. The most important lies you want to catch are your own.  Therefore, start with yourself if you’re concerned about lying and how to spot a lie before it hurts you.

We all get tempted to lie and justify our actions, but we can make better choices. Here are some common behaviors that indicate someone might be lying.

First, watch for changes in behavior.  Someone may have some of these behaviors naturally.  You want to catch a change. 

Years ago I worked with LaRae Que, a former FBI agent and author of the book, Secrets of A Strong Mind: What My Years As An FBI Counterintelligence Agent Taught Me About Leadership and Empowerment—And How To Make It Work For You.

LaRae suggests you establish a baseline for their typical, natural behaviors.  This enables you to understand when they are behaving differently.  One way to do this with people you do not know is to start the conversation with general questions about the weather, a recent professional sports game…

As you watch for these behaviors, look for clusters of irregular behavior.  If someone exhibits one or more of these behaviors one-time then it may not be significant.  However, if you understand their typical behaviors and one or more of these behaviors are different, then you should consider whether something is wrong.

Consider their behaviors in three key areas:

1.     Listen to their voice

Everyone has a tone of voice and style to their speech.  Watch for changes from their baseline communication style.

a)     Tone of voice can change when someone is lying. 

b)     The rhythm or flow of their words can change, along with the speed of their speech.

c)      Using too many words can indicate the person is trying to find something that resonates with you to hide the truth.

d)     Repeating words, statements or what has been said.  This may indicate an attempt to gather their thoughts or validate the lie to themselves.

e)     If they start removing themselves from their explanations.  This might be to distance themselves from a lie.

f)       Emphasizing they are telling the truth by adding a qualifying statement such as, “I swear to God.”

g)     Adding unnecessary superlatives such as, amazing, incredible...

h)     Using absolute statements that include always or never.

i)       Cannot remember what they previously said.  This is different from adding new information or correcting a previous statement.

2.     Watch their facial expressions

You can see microfacial expressions if you watch for them even though they occur in as little as a fraction of a second.  This is because often the person repeats them.

a)     Some people’s faces become a light shade of pink when they lie.

b)     Saying “No,” and looking in different direction.

c)      Nostrils may flare

d)     Biting lips

e)     Rapid blinking, which is a reaction; or the opposite, which is an intentional response, they stare at you to intimidate and control the conversation.

f)       Perspiration

3.     Observe their body language

One of the most humorous indicators is when they say “No” to an incriminating question, but their head is nodding “Yes.”  Body language is one of the easier areas to watch because some of the behaviors are so extreme.

a)     A change to heavy breathing may indicate they are out of breath from stress. 

b)     Touching or covering their mouth, or covering sensitive areas such as their gut, chest, throat, or head. 

c)      Fidgeting, or the opposite - freezing their motion or standing still.  Both these behaviors are different than natural body movement when in conversation.

d)     If the person is standing, they start shuffling their feet.  This may be their subconscious mind directing them to flee.

e)     Sudden head movements, particularly just before a response. 

f)       Suddenly pursing or biting their lips.

g)     May have difficulty speaking because their mouth gets dry due to stress, which decreases the salivary flow in the mouth.

h)     Pointing at someone or something to direct attention away from them.

Are you interested in the different types of lies?  Dawson McAllister believes there are Eight Types of Lies that People Tell.

What are common ways people lie?  BestLife.com suggests 40 Lies Everyone Tells on a Daily Basis

There’s another discussion on the intent behind lying.  For instance, are certain lies acceptable because the intent is sincere?

Or some extremists who believe there is no truth.  If there is no truth, then there cannot be lying because everyone gets to define their own truth.  (I suggest you do not hire these people.)

To be candid, I’m ready to move on from discussing lying. 

I encourage you to develop a habit of looking for clusters of irregular behavior so you can lessen the times that someone takes advantage of you by lying.  Developing habits in the three areas above should be helpful.

If you want training, Paul Ekman has great micro-expressions training packages. Others have content and teach also. I read the book, LieSpotting years ago and they provide additional content online.

There are also great books on Amazon if you want to learn more about discerning people’s tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions.

If you want to be your best, then you must catch your own lies before you live them out or speak them.  You must also be able to discern when other people are giving you less than the complete truth.


David Graham Russell

Leadership Activist, Author & Consultant