How well can you spot a liar?
I used to think I was pretty perceptive about seeing who was generally an honest person and who wasn’t.
But it turns out some real fraudsters can lurk under very charming and honest-seeming exteriors.
Here are the subtle but key signs to watch out for if you’re trying to spot habitual liars (so you can avoid them).
I was recently scammed by a lady on the beach who braided my hair into cornrows.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone talking that fast, and she’d already started on the job when I was still just considering whether I was interested.
Before I could rethink or do anything this woman was talking up a storm and dancing from subject to subject like an acrobat.
It was manic and kind of annoying but it also lulled me into a kind of “whatever” attitude and I chose to see it as hilarious.
It was less hilarious at the end when she told me the price of her substandard work.
“You agreed to pay per row of braided hair,” she reminded me as I looked in the mirror at the excessive amount of small, costly braids.
Looking back I’d realized her fast-talking had been a way to stop me from thinking critically about how expensive it was getting.
The lady had been charming, and many habitual liars are, too.
She’d used a series of anecdotes, compliments and diversions to sidetrack me away from her scam.
It’s true I agreed to pay per row, but she also assured me repeatedly she’d only do a few rows as necessary, not the 12 or 13 she did.
This is a trait of many dishonest people:
They wrap a deceptive or dishonest statement in a lot of charm and act like they’re not doing anything wrong.
That’s because for the hustler, taking advantage of somebody isn’t doing anything wrong. It’s just a way of life.
3) Fake friendliness
Fake friendliness is a definite feature of dishonest people.
The question, of course, is how to separate fake friendliness from real friendliness.
How can you know when somebody is really a chummy person and when they’re just playing at it?
The biggest thing to watch for is balance:
If somebody is being overly friendly for no apparent reason it can be a warning sign.
But if they’re just smiling and inviting you along and being reasonably welcoming, there’s no reason to be suspicious.
This brings up the next point…
Fake friends use ego stroking to gain trust and get away with lies and deception.
There’s always a place for a well-timed compliment or kind word, but when you’re being flattered left and right it can be considered overly friendly.
This is especially true if the person buttering you up is somebody you don’t know well or just met.
Dishonest and manipulative people like to stroke egos as a way to hide their lies and distract or ingratiate themselves.
5) Offering freebies
Many dishonest people will offer favors and freebies, acting very casual about it and presenting themselves as naturally generous.
But behind these kind offers is a catch:
You will have to pay back whatever they gave you and likely with interest, too.
Dishonest people have a trait of hiding who they really are and manipulating people via offers of help.
If somebody emphasizes no-strings-attached assistance, be careful that’s what they really mean.
This brings up the next indicator of a dishonest person: over-promising.
6) Making big promises
There’s a place for promises, but too many of them are a sign of a habitual liar.
You also need to watch out for overly dramatic and exaggerated terms and promises that are made with too much enthusiasm and no details.
“This will be the best trip ever, I promise!”
“There’s no way this treatment won’t work, I guarantee it.”
“I promise I’ll never cheat on you, I love you forever more than anybody else in the entire world.”
These big promises come across a bit dramatic, don’t they?
That’s because promises are always easier to make than taking real actions.
7) Making appeals to authority
Another frequent tactic and trait of a habitual liar is using appeals to authority.
This is a tactic where a person refers to somebody of high authority or reputation to back up what they’re saying or claiming.
For example, consider a man being called out for smoking too many illicit substances by his girlfriend.
He’s got an addiction and he knows it, but he doesn’t want to face it, so he tells her that she just doesn’t get it and that many creative artists have a troubled relationship with drink and substances.
Hasn’t she heard of Hunter S. Thompson? What about Andy Warhol, David Bowie or Jerry Garcia?
If they did it can she really be critical of him for following a similar path?
On a related note…
8) Using peer pressure
The dishonest person will often use peer pressure as a lever as well.
If you find somebody is trying to get you to believe something questionable due to your friends, family or others believing it, they likely have a dishonest streak.
This is an attempt to outsource.
If you ask why a person keeps borrowing money from you without paying it back when they said they would, for example, what’s their answer?
If they say you’re the only one out of your friend circle who seems so stressed by it, this is an evasion attempt and use of peer pressure to be dishonest.
9) Guilting and shaming
When their more charming tactics and traits don’t do the trick, the dishonest individual turns to darker strategies.
Guilting and shaming is one of those traits that emerges.
The liar will mislead about his or her actions, words or intentions and use guilt and shame to throw people off the scent.
For example, if questioned about his or her strange behavior lately, a cheating partner may respond by gaslighting in return:
“You’re probably the one who’s cheating!” she says, adding “you never pay attention to me and treat me like nothing but now you suddenly care now that you’re having paranoia about me?”
This type of a comeback shows the way a dishonest person can throw guilt and gaslighting all into one response.
10) Being passive-aggressive
Passive-aggressive behavior is really hard to deal with, especially if it’s in someone close to you.
They either withdraw and don’t respond or go after you and make you feel you’ve done something wrong.
When they want to get their way and nicer traits aren’t working, many dishonest people revert back into a passive-aggressive mode.
They run hot and cold, switching between seeming indifference and a relaxed, withdrawn manner, and aggressive, in-your-face behavior.
The point is to throw you off balance and to keep other people guessing as to their true intentions, allowing more space for inaccuracies, lies and distortions.
11) Overall inconsistency
Perhaps the key thing to work for in somebody who is dishonest is inconsistency.
In their actions, behavior, words and personality, they are not somebody you can depend on.
They change from one day to the next and seem to have no solid foundation for their identity or actions.
This type of inconsistency is more than somebody just not having their life in order.
It’s about an overall untrustworthiness, and if you trust your gut you’ll be able to see the link between the inconsistent person and their frequent dishonesty.
Fake smiles and false promises
Be careful of fake smiles and false promises.
There are far too many dishonest individuals out there who lie to themselves and others.
As the saying goes: hurt people hurt people. It couldn’t be more true.
Anybody who’s willing to lie frequently is an insecure, sad and ultimately fearful individual who doesn’t trust their own value enough to get what they want the old-fashioned way.
It’s sad. But it shouldn’t involve you.
That’s why you need to be very cautious and be ready to walk away if you see a lot of the behaviors and character traits above showing up.
Lost Your Sense of Purpose?
In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.
Jeanette Brown created this free values discovery PDF to help clarify your deepest motivations and beliefs. As an experienced life coach and self-improvement teacher, Jeanette guides people through major transitions by realigning them with their principles.
Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.
With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.
Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.