Detecting Lies

The article gives practical advice on detecting lies. Areas to watch include the degree of eye contact made, body language, and the credibility of excuses.

Are you always the last to know the truth about what's REALLY going on? Does it drive you crazy that you can't seem to pick up clues that someone might be lying, when all your friends seem to be able to spot them a mile away? Here are some telltale signs that what you're hearing might be something less than the whole truth.

Eye contact

When someone won't meet your eye when they tell you something, your inner alarm should start ringing. Particularly if this person is usually fairly forthright and makes an average amount of eye contact when you talk to him.

Many people are not confident about their ability to lie, and so will find it hard to look you in the eye, because they fear you'll be able to see through them. They might also be keeping track of who else is in the vicinity, that might overhear and contradict their story. Other, more experienced liars will be looking around the room for a worthy distraction, and a valid way to change the subject.

The key is to pay attention so that you notice when a person seems to be refusing to make eye contact with you, and see if you can link this behaviour with the topic of conversation. Why do they look shifty? Could there be something they're not telling you?

Body language

Other parts of the body can also give a liar away. If you're chatting to someone and the conversation takes a new turn, be on the alert if the new topic brings about a change in their body's behaviour. The most obvious signs are blushing and sweating - very difficult reactions to control, and impossible to hide - but there are other, more subtle changes in body language which may tip you off to the presence of an untruth.

Does the person's leg suddenly start jiggling? This tends to be a dead giveaway that they're nervous or feeling put on the spot. Do they start adjusting their hair a lot, or scratching a suddenly maddening itch? Such responses can be a reflection of their body's reaction to covering up the truth.


As well as looking for visual cues to indicate a person's level of honesty during a suspicious conversation, make sure you really listen to their words. If they're explaining why they couln't make your party, for example, see if the excuse sounds plausible. Some people, in the panic of being forced to lie, can trot out the most absurd story that is just impossible to believe. Really bad liars look skeptical as they tell their tall tale - even THEY don't look like they believe it.

Other people will fire off several excuses in a row, each one more outrageous than the last. Sometimes this list of excuses can even contradict each other, as the liar doesn't have time to think about whether his story works or not.

These are obvious examples of credibility problems, but the bottom line is to combine an awareness the messages this person is sending with his body AND with his words. If they don't add up, you're entitled to question his truthfulness.

Gut instinct

But how do you deal with a more accomplished liar? What if he seems relaxed and open, looks you straight in the eye, and has a flawless story? This kind of liar is more of a challenge, but you have a powerful secret weapon left: listen to your instincts.

Sometimes you are face to face with a professional con man or a compulsively unfaithful partner. Such people will be experienced and credible. They will have worked on controlling their bodies' reactions to the fear of getting caught out, and will seem natural and trustworthy at first glance. They've probably rehearsed their story, or used it successfully many times before without getting caught, so they are confident that you will believe it too.

In these situations, and often in spite of all the evidence before you, you will sometimes experience a strong feeling that something's not right. Even though logically the story might seem absolutely watertight, something inside you is sending you warning signals.

The biggest mistake you can ever make in such a situation is to ignore this gut feeling. You might not be able to put your finger on your suspicions - let alone explain them to anyone else - but your best course of action is to just reserve judgement until you have more information. Don't accuse anyone, but don't put yourself at their mercy either. Wait until you're sure they're on the level.

Of course, not everyone deserves to be the object of automatic and chronic suspicion. But if you're not sure if someone is lying to you, pay attention to the combination of eye contact, body language, the credibility of the excuse, and your gut instincts. You will find that your ability to spot a lie at 50 paces becomes finely tuned and very reliable.

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