Did you ever have the feeling you were being lied to but couldn’t find out? At times like this, advice on how to spot a liar could come in handy.
We should all aim to be trusting and to treat people with respect. We should be able to honour their privacy and their right not to tell us absolutely everything. However, if you suspect you’re being deceived, you have the right to know. When someone is intentionally deceiving you, they lose the right to be dealt with in good faith.
How to spot a liar, then? Well, experts claim that if you know the signs to look for, you can always spot a liar in the act:
1. Start by building trust
According to ex-FBI agent LaRae Quy, if you’re trying to spot a liar in the act, it’s important to build trust in the conversation with a person you suspect, to help the person open up to you. If you start by addressing them in a suspicious or accusatory manner, you’ll get them immediately on the defensive.
2. Listen to how much they are talking
When people are lying, they tend to speak more than people who are being truthful, as if, in trying to cover up the lie, they over-explain, perhaps in an attempt to obscure the truth in words.
Also, you should pay attention to their getting louder and/or faster, as both of these show stress. If you hear a crack in the natural tone of voice at some point, this is the point where the lie is told. Other signs to look out for are coughing or clearing the throat repeatedly.
It’s important to note, however, that lying isn’t the only reason why someone might show signs of stress in a conversation. If you are accusing someone falsely or dealing with a subject that would naturally cause someone to feel uncomfortable, you have to understand that these factors alone might stress a person.
3. Have control responses for comparison
When you want to spot a liar in action, ask questions which you know the person will answer truthfully to and use them as a control with which you can compare their later responses to key questions. If the person’s default is calm, for example, and then becomes anxious or angry, you might have reason for suspicion. It works the other way around too, though, if someone is unusually calm for the key questions, it might show that they are feigning it to cover up their real feelings.
4. Drop an unexpected question
When you’re trying to spot a liar, note that they might be prepared in advance to answer questions deceitfully. But if you catch them off guard by asking an unexpected question, the facade can quickly crumble.
5. Look for insincere facial expressions
It’s almost impossible to fake a genuine smile. People will time fake smiles inappropriately, they’ll smile for longer than they would with an authentic smile and they’ll smile with their mouths but not with their eyes.
You might be able to detect the real emotion combined with the smile if you look closely enough.
6. Watch out for telling lapses and changes in language use
If a person who’s usually perfectly good at remembering things suddenly has a lapse in memory, this can be a warning sign that can help you spot a liar. Also, if their responses are very brief and they refuse to go into detail, this can be another sign to look out for.
A person might change the way they speak when they lie. They might start speaking more formally, using, for example, the full name of a key person when a shortened version is the norm (e.g. saying Alexandra, rather than simply Alex).
They also might show exaggerated enthusiasm in their responses, using superlatives like ‘amazing’, or ‘brilliant’ to refer to things.
7. Ask to be reminded of specific details in the story in a reverse order
When people are being honest, they tend to add to the story further details and facts as they remember how things happened. When people are lying, they’ll probably just repeat statements they’ve already made so that they don’t trip up and make a mistake.
8. Pay attention to micro-expressions
Paul Ekman, expert in lie detection, believes that what we usually think is a gut feeling that somebody is lying is actually us picking up unconsciously on micro-expressions. A micro-expression is an emotion that flickers across the face involuntarily in a fraction of a second, and which betrays a person who is lying if it’s spotted.
For example, when a person is acting happy, a flash of anger might appear on his/her face momentarily, betraying their true feelings. You can be taught to see micro-expressions in only about an hour, but without training, 99% of people are unable to spot them.
9. Watch out for gestures that conflict with claims
People make involuntary gestures when they are lying that reveal the truth. Paul Ekman claims that, for example, when a person makes a statement like ‘x stole the money’ and it’s a lie, they often make a gesture that contradicts the statement, like a slight head shake denoting ‘no’ as they make it, as if the body itself is protesting to the lie.
10. Pay attention to the eyes
When trying to spot a liar, the key is to notice what’s going on with someone’s eyes. Not only do we often see true emotions flicker across the eyes, people also might look away when they tell a lie.
It’s normal for a person to look away or look up when they have been asked a difficult question that they need to think about, but when the question is simple and someone looks away, it might be a sign that they’re not being honest.
I don’t know what the worst thing about being lied to is. Is it the humiliation of having been taken for a ride? Is it the crushing fall back to earth after someone warped your idea of reality? Is it that you’re robbed forever of the ability to trust another person?
There’s no such thing as ‘what a person doesn’t know doesn’t hurt them’. Make no mistake, lying is a grave sin.
When you undermine somebody’s sense of reality, you are undermining the whole basis on which they make life decisions and you’re potentially ruining that person’s ability to relate to people in a trusting and open way.
Have you ever tried any of these methods to spot a liar? Do you think they’re effective?
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