Nobody likes being lied to and it’s a horrible feeling to think that you can’t trust what someone is telling you. Sometimes this ultimately doesn’t matter though – whether or not your best friend really used to be a boxing champion is really immaterial, and it may be best if you never do find out how you looked in that jumper.
But in other cases it is critical that we learn the truth, and being lied to in this instance can really affect our ability to move forward in the best way and make the right decisions. It’s a very useful skill for instance to be able to tell whether or not you’re being lied to when a salesman comes to your door – should you believe them when they say that they’re offering the cheapest deal on the market? Even more important though, is being able to tell when a partner, a boss or a child lies to you. Is your son being honest when he tells you that he’s stopped using drugs? Is your partner lying about where they’re going in the evenings? And is your boss being truthful about your future prospects in the organisation?
Here the ability to spot a lie could help you to progress your relationships and your career – even to avoid losing a loved one or experiencing a traumatic life event. Sadly people aren’t honest all the time, but here are some ways that you can learn who is being and who isn’t…
One of the most telling signs that someone is lying is nervousness. If somebody is very nervous when they’re telling you where they’ve been or what the state of your finances are, then it suggests that they might be fabricating the story and that they might be afraid you’re going to realise. This is often why people struggle to look others in the eye when lying.
Lie detectors rely on this fact to help investigators check whether someone is lying. These machines look for signs of physiological arousal such as sweat and higher brain activity: but it is hard for them to tell when this ‘excitement’ is simply a result of being under questioning (and strapped to a scary looking machine no less).
Fortunately for you, there will not normally be cause for anyone to be all that nervous. Normally if they are lying they will be telling you what you want to hear (a promotion is just around the corner, no I’m not seeing anyone else), so what reason would they have to be nervous? In the latter case they should be annoyed if anything…
Another thing to look out for is signs of storytelling. Normally if someone is lying they will have to come up with an alternative story and will thus be force to pause while they think of what they’re going to say. If you can catch them out with a direct question and it takes them too long to think of how to answer, then this might suggest they have made up the story.
Fabricated stories will also often have too much attention to detail. When we think up a ‘convincing’ fabrication, we often forget how we would naturally speak when recounting details and so we end up focusing too much on times, on what people thought etc.
If these signs aren’t immediately obvious, then you can often find out more by simply questioning the person correctly and trying to pick apart their story. Asking them more details about what they were doing and asking them again later to check that there is consistency can often expose liars.
Alternatively you could use another lie to try and catch out their lie. If they tell you that they were at a dance class, then you could tell them that your friend used to go and knows the instructor. Was it Geoff teaching? If they say yes then either you have a big coincidence on your hands or a liar. Statistically one is more likely.
Another strategy is to use baseline questioning. Here you will ask them something you know they are going to answer honestly and then compare their mannerisms with the way they answer the less certain questions.
These strategies can all help you to spot when someone isn’t being truthful, but if they don’t help then it’s time to get your hands dirty and start checking the facts. An investigator may be able to help you do that…