Manager's Tips and Tools

by Manager Development Services

How Can You Tell When Someone is Lying?


Lying is stressful for the liar due to the individual’s need to monitor 1) their story, 2) eye contact, 3) facial expression, 4) tone of voice, 5) body position and movements, and 6) general attitude all at the same time. This multitasking makes it extremely difficult for anyone to keep track of everything at once and still listen effectively to another person.

There are basically only two types of lies: A lie of commission and a lie of omission. A lie of commission is a deliberate conveyance of an untruth designed to inaccurately influence a person’s perception. A lie of omission is a conveyance of an untruth by holding back certain information, which would accurately influence a person’s perception. Both are deceit. Whenever I lead you to an erroneous conclusion, I am lying.

Sometimes it is difficult to know when or if an individual is lying. When accused, an innocent person will become offensive while a guilty person will become defensive. By being aware of some of the following points, I have better insight whether to investigate a person’s story further.

1) Their Story. A liar’s story is designed to convince me of “their” version of the truth. It will often be elaborate, halting, and sprinkled with some truths to illustrate authenticity. When interrupted, most liars will usually start over as if repeating a rehearsed script. An impromptu liar, when interrupted, will continually pause as if to calculate strategy, track if all six tasks are synchronized, and evaluate whether the story is being accepted.

A liar’s story will often embellish his or her qualities or achievements while subtly discounting or blaming others. They do not make direct statements but imply answers instead. They are careful not to admit or deny anything directly. Their story will also attempt to redirect focus or change the subject. If I can redirect focus or change the subject, then I don’t have to lie.

If I, as manager, have learned to love the silence, a liar will have a tendency to continue speaking long after he or she has made their point. Usually, they will restate the same points over and over as if repetition alone will make their story convincing. A guilty person cannot stand silence and will break it, usually with unnecessary details. In other words, give them enough rope…

2) Eye contact. Liars avoid or force eye contact as though I will see the truth in their eyes. If eye contact is forced, a person will not be able to maintain it for long and will break it off. An individual may have a tendency to blink at a faster pace than normal and their pupils will tend to be more dilated. A liar will attempt to regain eye contact but will still not be able to maintain it for long. Their eyes may dart back-and-forth catching mine momentarily as if repetitive momentary glances will add up to one continuous glance.

3) Facial expression will become stiff and forced, as the individual attempts to “create” a convincing, emotional expression, which is opposite what they are really feeling. When lying, I have to hide deceit, fear, guilt, and shame by forcing a sincere “happy” face.

Often, it is much easier to just maintain a “Flat Affect” or deadpan, poker-faced expression. My expression will be limited to mouth movement only. Because my smile is fake, it will not look natural. Only the muscles around the mouth are involved. My eyes will not be squinted or wrinkled, my nose will not wrinkle, and my jaw will not move.

I may very well have “flashbulb eyes” which I will force to stay on you. There will be a delay between expressions and words. An expression remains longer than it would normally, then cuts off abruptly. Because the individual is multitasking, words and expression often don’t coincide.

4) Tone of voice will often not match verbal statements. A liar may clear their throat a number of times in preparation for finding the right tone. Tone may be raspy or may modulate as the individual searches for the correct match. Often they will be monotone. Words will often be garbled and sentences muddled rather than clear and natural.

5) Body position and gestures will also be stiff and limited. Liars tend to touch their face and neck more than usual. They are also inclined to scratch neck, nose, and ears. It’s important to be familiar with a person’s baseline demeanor before interrupting the meaning of a specific body movement.

A baseline demeanor is a person’s normal body movement in normal, everyday, non-stressful situations. I should make preliminary and follow-up observations of their baseline demeanor before I make a conclusion of deception. People who are just naturally tense or high-strung may chronically self-touch, have sweaty palms, or a tendency to jump from subject to subject. With a person like this, I must remember that these cues may be less indicative of deception.

Because of having to multitask (coordinating expression, gestures, eye contact, and tone with the lie they are telling), liars will tend to make fewer gestures and movements with their hands and arms. These movements tend to be made close to and toward the body. Legs are a different story. Legs are difficult to control and will tend to move a lot when we are nervous, stressed, or being deceptive.

An inexperienced liar will often sit with their legs and arms tightly crossed, in a closed-off, defensive position. On the other hand, an experienced liar may tend to overcompensate by making exaggerated gestures with hands and arms. Either way, these gestures will not appear normal or inline with their words.

6) General attitude of liars is one of defensiveness, insecurity, and impatience. They do not like to face questioners and will often turn their face or body away. They may use sarcasm or humor to deflect a subject.

A liar will often repeat my words to answer my question and is more apt to use formal English.

Q: “Did you file the report?”

A: “Yes, I did file the report.” (Liar)

A: “Yes, I did.” (Non-liar)

A: “I filed it.” (Non-liar)

A liar is also less likely to use contractions and pronouns.

Q: “Did you forget to tell Joan?”

A: “No, I did not forget to tell Joan.” (Liar)

A: “No, I didn’t.” (Non-liar)

A: “No, I told her.” (Non-liar)

Because liars are on the defensive, they often act hurt, or attacked, or maligned, and protest over and over about the injustice. If they protest too much – they’re lying. If I do think someone is lying to me, I quickly change the subject. If it appears they become more comfortable and follow along with the new subject, I’m pretty sure they’re lying. People who are innocent will want to return to the main subject until it is settled.

An innocent person will offensively protect their character, while a guilty person will defensively protect their character. The importance of knowing when someone is lying is that it alerts me that there is something significantly wrong in the work environment I am trying to create. I need to address this behavior with the individual in private to get a clear understanding of this person’s motivation behind the lie. Then we need to either do some serious work or I need to let this individual go.

– excerpt from, “Managing from the Heart – A Way of Life”


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September 29, 2010 - Posted by | Counseling Techniques, Employee Coaching, Leadership Skills, Manager Development Tools, Mentoring | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. Great document. Well worth reading several times over. I am very familiar with the use of Polygraphs. Since fraud is on the rise, I believe the Federal Government needs to update the “Polygraph Act.” The more the person believes its the truth, the more they believe themselves. Justification is always a narrow field too.

    Thank you, Carl Slicer, owner, http://www.BestHire.com

    Comment by cslicer | March 30, 2010 | Reply

  2. This article is amazingly true! Have seen this in many people. And did learn a few new things too.. Thanks for the reading!

    Comment by Darlene Oickle | March 31, 2010 | Reply

  3. Excellent article. I enjoyed reading it thoroughly. Some good insights on reading liars. But even with these tips, there are always those who seem to be very good at deceit. We must learn to trust our instincts sometimes.

    Comment by Ivy | April 2, 2010 | Reply

  4. Excellent article. I enjoyed reading it thoroughly. Some good insights on reading liars. But even with these tips, there are always those who seem to be very good at deceit. We must learn to trust our instincts sometimes when listening to someone. Often our ‘gut instinct’ is usually right.

    Comment by Ivy | April 2, 2010 | Reply

  5. Yeah, I’d really like to see the source of this information. In my experience, all business people are liars. And what exactly is the point at which something is a lie? Is a mild exaggeration a lie? How about if the person believes what they are saying, even though it isn’t true? Is that a lie?

    In my experience, if you are a talented business person, then you are a fantastic liar and none of the above statements would even apply. I know when people are lying to me because their stories lack logic and because my livelihood depends upon my ability to read people well. When I am “lying” to someone I have never before felt myself multitasking (and again, I have issues with this black and white way of looking at the truth). If I have a need to make something up, it comes out of my soul instantaneously as if it is the truth. It happens without thinking and I don’t contemplate whether or not the person thinks I’m lying and try to cover it. I simply know they can’t tell. Talk to any good salesperson or business person and I bet most will say the same thing.

    Lying in business is like improvising on the fly. How often have you been making a presentation, a question is asked by a client and your research or preparation hasn’t provided you with the information necessary to answer the question accurately and with absolute certainty — you have 2 choices: 1) say “I don’t know, I’ll get back to you,” and lose the deal to someone who does know or 2) use the information you do have, instantaneously draw a conclusion that makes some sense and answer the question with confidence as if you knew the answer all along. In my 20 years of being a deal closer and a marketer, I have found that confidence in yourself, your intelligence, and your ability to manipulate makes it impossible for people to tell when you are lying. Anyone, who can’t do that, doesn’t belong in the big leagues.

    Just my opinion, but I’d love to read feedback or similar experiences from people who have had to be on the front lines closing deals.

    Oh, and back to my original question – do you have any actual evidence or research that this article is based upon or is it conjecture based upon your own experiences? I suppose my general issue with your line of reasoning is that you give everyone quite a bit of credit. Your entire argument is based upon the assumption that lies are carefully planned out, that the liar is acutely aware of the fact that they are lying while they are telling a lie, and that even more so, they are actively taking steps to cover the lie. That’s quite a leap. Furthermore, people who are inclined to actually just make stuff up (and this is based on psychological research) are called “pathological liars” and these people believe their own lies. The moment they say it, it becomes true for them and that invalidates everything you have said and makes it very difficult for them to be “read”. Many pathological liars can beat polygraph tests because they do genuinely believe what they are saying.

    Fascinating subject. just don’t agree I guess.

    Comment by B | April 3, 2010 | Reply


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