Let’s face it, lying is rife.
The evidence suggests that most of us will tell one or two fibs a day.
That’s the bad news, the good news is that most of our lying tends to be so-called white lies.
But from time to time you will meet somebody who tries to deceive you in a big way.
What’s worse, they may be so good at it that you mistakenly take them at their word.
That’s why we need to watch out for the subtle clues that someone isn’t being honest.
1) They exhibit these very specific body language giveaways
There’s a common misconception that a liar’s body language will clearly give the game away.
But sadly, that’s usually not the case.
The tricky part is that a lot of non-verbal cues can be misleading.
They may tell you that someone feels uncomfortable or even nervous, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to a lie.
Similarly, shifty eyes have long been heralded as a classic “tell”, but research has suggested this may simply mean someone is thinking.
It just means they are trying to access their long-term memory. That’s hardly conclusive.
However, experts do agree that the following behaviors may offer a good clue:
Gesturing with (both) hands
One University of Michigan study noted that lying people are more likely to gesture with both of their hands than people who are telling the truth.
Fidgeting or itching
This time it was research from UCLA that discovered that when people feel nervous it has an effect on their nervous system which may make them feel itchier.
That in turn can cause them to fidget more.
So you could be on the lookout for this along with other types of grooming behavior like smoothing out their hair.
2) They use some strange phrases
Sometimes it’s not just what they’re saying to you that sounds fishy, it’s how they say it.
Language is very nuanced, and so when people use certain phrases or even structure sentences in a particular way, it can tell you a lot psychologically.
Listen out for the following:
“Is that what you really think of me?!”
This sort of deflection tactic aims to shift the focus back on you to take the heat off them. Their indignation buys them time and dismisses your accusations.
“I can’t remember”
Most people don’t have such bad memories that they forget significant details. So their insistence that they don’t know might be a way of getting out of any further questions.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about”
Much like the sentence above, they’re trying to play dumb to avoid answering things they would rather not talk about.
3) They repeat your question back at you
“Where was I last night?”
“Have I slept with somebody else?”
If someone parrots your original question or statement back at you, then beware.
It’s probably a tactic to buy them some more time.
Especially if they are caught unaware.
Because, as we’ll see next, every precious second counts for them to think about how they will answer.
4) They take some time to get their story straight
The truth comes to us quicker than a lie.
Lies need consideration and more thought.
So if someone seems pretty dumbfounded and there’s a notable pause before they speak — that could be why.
Rather than instantly leap to their own defense, they take a moment to gather themselves.
They need to figure out what story they are going to give you.
5) They are very sparse in the details
The larger the web of deceit that we weave, the more likely we are to get tripped up.
If someone seems strangely short when it comes to divulging relevant information, they are trying to avoid falling into this trap.
They know that the more they say, the more they will have to remember.
They probably assume it’s best to say as little as possible and try to change the subject instead.
6) They go overboard with the finer points
It’s not everyone’s tactic though to keep as schtum as possible.
In fact, some people go too far the other way.
They try to think what an innocent person would do. And surely, an innocent person would give rich details?!
So that’s what they try to do.
If someone goes overboard or embellishes their story, that’s also a sign that they’re not being honest with you.
7) They make an extra effort to really look you in the eye
We’ve probably all heard that liars will find it harder to look you in the eye.
Well, liars have also heard this too.
That’s why, in an attempt to seem more credible, they’ll hold your gaze.
But they hold it a bit too long, and it becomes unnatural.
Research (again from the University of Michigan) noted that when people were being truthful, they closed their eyes way more often than liars did.
So if someone is intently staring at you, it might be that they are trying a little bit too hard to be convincing.
8) The color drains from their face
Have you heard it said when someone gets a shock that they turn white as a sheet?
When someone feels caught out in a lie, the same can happen.
Their complexion lightens as the blood runs from their face.
It’s an uncontrollable bodily reaction to being put on the spot.
9) There are changes in perspiration
When we feel under the spotlight, we might start to sweat a little.
It’s another thing that we don’t really get a say over, as our body kicks in with instinctive responses to being put under pressure.
So you might notice that sweat starts to bead up on their forehead, upper lip, or chin.
Either that or they go completely dry-mouthed, although admittedly that could be far harder to spot in someone.
10) Their voice shifts in these ways…
When we’re calm, cool, and collected our voice shows this.
Conversely, when we’re feeling the pressure it can also shine through loud and clear.
Listen out for:
- A higher pitch tone in their voice
- Speaking at a louder volume
When we’re nervous the voice can get higher as the vocal cords tighten up through tension. Meanwhile, someone might start to raise their voice in defensiveness.
11) They miss out contractions in their sentences
Okay, this one clearly needs some explanation.
Normal people tend to speak in a relaxed way. When we do so, we usually contract our sentences.
For example, “do not” becomes “don’t”.
Watch out for unnatural-sounding sentences that seem a bit forced.
Maybe instead of saying “I didn’t do anything wrong” they tell you “I did not do anything wrong”.
According to experts, they’re trying too hard to emphasize their point. But in doing so they actually give you a red flag to listen out for.
12) They try to sound more credible with words like “honest” and “truth”
You may find that they scatter sentences in as they speak, such as:
- To be honest
- I’ll be honest with you
- The truth is
- Let me give it to you straight
- I’ll level with you
These are an attempt to sound more believable by asserting their credibility. But in doing so, it may hint at the fact they have something to hide.
13) They use more filler words
We’re talking about all those ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ that we use to bridge a gap in our speech.
Research shows that “speaking with more vocal fill” is yet another common indicator of deception.
It shows a certain amount of discomfort and lack of confidence.
But it also offers up more time for them to think. It’s essentially another way to try and buy some time as they come up with an answer.
14) You may also just sense it
You don’t have to be the world’s greatest detective to pick up on a lie.
All of the signs on our list that someone is lying are very subtle. But we’re actually designed to pick up on subtle signals that one another gives out.
That means you may well get a gut feeling that turns out to be right.
Far from being just a guess, these are instinctive gifts that can pick up on 1001 small cues.
Research has concluded that we could well have intuitive and unconscious ideas about whether someone is lying to us.
So listen to your instincts. If it feels like someone isn’t telling you the truth, tread carefully!
Subtle signs aren’t always reliable
Whilst research has proven that a lot of our subtle signs can indicate lying, it’s not so straightforward.
Firstly, you have to pick up on these cues that can easily go unnoticed in the heat of the moment.
But secondly, just how subtle they are makes them quite unreliable.
Many suggest nervousness, but that doesn’t always mean a lie.
To make your deductions more accurate, you should be on the lookout for several of these non-obvious signs altogether, rather than in isolation.