Honesty is the best policy, at least most of the time.
But we actually tend to lie a lot more than we’d like to admit, even those of us who are really honest people.
We fib to avoid hurting people’s feelings, and even kids as young as two years old learn to lie to deflect blame or anger.
“No, I didn’t eat the cookies,” swears the chocolate-faced little beast.
But serious lies and deception can have major impacts on our feelings, our decisions, and just our lives in general.
So wouldn’t it be great if there was a perfect way to tell if someone was telling the truth?
Unfortunately, most people are quite good at deception when they want to be.
But there are ‘tells’ that will often give away what’s really going on.
Here are ten ways to quickly tell if someone is being honest with you when you need to know right away.
1) They give you normal eye contact
Eye contact is one of the biggest indications you can use to tell if a person is being honest with you.
When people are lying, they do one of two things.
They might avert their gaze, looking anywhere but at you because they’re worried about being caught in their deception.
Or they might actually stare right into your eyes, hard and unblinking. In fact, this is what most people do when they’re really intending to deceive you.
When they’re being honest, a person simply gives you a normal amount of eye contact.
“But wait!” you might exclaim. “What’s a normal level of eye contact?”
This is different for everyone, so it’s a lot easier to notice with someone you know whose baseline you would recognize.
With a stranger, this can be harder to establish. But even then, you can hopefully pick up on any differences from the way they act when they’re saying things you know are true.
2) They blush
According to research, blushing is automatic and involuntary, which means it can’t be faked.
Psychologists think that blushing might be a defense mechanism to reduce conflict and deflate aggression, just like a dog showing its belly.
Someone holding their breath until they turn red simply doesn’t look the same.
But the downside is that you don’t necessarily know what is making the person blush.
Sure, they could be embarrassed because they’re revealing something about themself, or they could feel like they’ve made some sort of social blunder.
In these cases, it can reveal the truth.
At the same time, it could be a giveaway that they’re lying and feeling nervous about it.
So, while the blush can’t be stopped and definitely reveals something, you have to be careful how you interpret it.
3) Their voice is steady and normal
When a person is talking to you, and their voice is steady and normal, it’s a good way to tell that they’re being honest with you.
That’s because when people lie, they have a much harder time keeping their voices modulated.
You can listen for their voices cracking or trailing off.
Sudden leaps in volume between words can be another telltale sign that a person is fibbing.
These tells all happen when the person is nervous about lying and, therefore, has a lot of nervous energy, making their behavior harder to control.
But what about a practiced liar?
You just might find that a practiced and professional liar can control their voice well – even too well.
They might sound a bit too controlled, overly quiet, or flat and somewhat robotic when they’re lying to you. That’s because they’re trying too hard to keep their voice in check.
4) They don’t overdo it with their hands
Despite the cultural stereotypes you sometimes see in the media, all people actually gesture when they talk.
They just do it more or less than others.
And surprisingly, blind people will gesture when they talk to each other – even over the phone!
So this means that hand waving and gesturing is more of an automatic thing we do when we think and talk rather than a way to send people signals.
You can use this knowledge to quickly figure out if a person is being honest with you.
When people lie, they have to make up details and not just remember what really happened. That makes their brains work harder, and so they tend to gesture after they say things, not before or during.
They also move both hands more often, while truth-tellers normally use just one.
And finally, liars tend to hide their palms and show more of the back of their hands. This might be a subconscious thing they do to protect or comfort themselves during their lies.
Honest people use normal levels of hand gestures.
Again, though, everyone’s ‘normal’ is different, so you need to compare the way they gesture normally so you have something to compare with.
5) They don’t fidget or groom themselves
Honest people don’t tend to fidget, scratch, pull at body parts, or groom themselves. Not more than normal, anyway.
Once again, the extra nervous energy of lying can make people move and shift more.
They might feel more uncomfortable than usual, causing them to get itches, tingles, or aches.
A lot of people scratch at or touch their noses when they’re nervous.
But when people are being honest, they generally don’t have the same kind of energy, and you can tell…
…except when they’re nervous for another reason.
A person who’s nervous because they’re telling you something that’s going to upset you will show these same fidgeting and grooming responses.
So you have to think about the content of what they’re saying and judge for yourself whether they have a reason to be nervous other than concealing something.
6) They don’t suck in their lips
Liars can do all sorts of funny things unconsciously with their bodies and faces.
With their mouths, this can include a couple of unusual things that you almost never see when they’re being honest.
People often suck in or roll back their lips when they’re keeping something to themselves.
If their lips disappear altogether, it’s possible that there’s something they’re not telling you in order to deceive you.
On the other hand, if you ask them a question and they purse their lips (make sort of a kissy face), they’re probably thinking of a way not to answer you directly.
These are both things that you don’t see people doing when they’re being honest.
7) They don’t get sweaty and uncomfortable
Unless what they’re telling the truth about is hard to admit, honest people don’t get physically uncomfortable when they’re talking to you.
But liars certainly can.
They can get hot and sweaty, even turning red and flustered.
It could just be a hot day, right?
Or it could be that they’re feeling nervous excitement about lying, and their fight-or-flight response is kicking in.
8) Their speech flows normally
When people are being honest with you, their speech is going to flow normally.
They don’t use too much vocal fill like “um” and “uh” to buy time while they think about the next thing to say like a liar would.
They also don’t get confused about details and have to stop and start again.
At the same time, though, speech can be halting when really difficult topics come up.
So if they’re admitting to doing something wrong, honest people might strain to get it out.
But if they’re lying, people’s normal flow of speech can often get disrupted and is something to listen for.
9) Their story makes sense
One easy way to catch a liar is if their story doesn’t make any sense.
Some people just aren’t great at making up fiction!
If someone is telling you about something that happened, but they keep contradicting themselves, or worse, having to start over, it’s probably because it’s not true.
“Then he said, oh no, wait, actually…” it sounds like they’re getting caught in their own lie.
10) What they’re saying makes them look bad
Why would you tell somebody something if it’s going to make you look bad?
Sure, this could be a deep fake by a devious genius, but in general, people don’t like to talk about things that make them look stupid, mean, or horrible.
So unless you suspect some ulterior motive for why someone would hang themselves out to dry, they’re probably telling you the truth.
How to catch a truth-teller
We normally assume that people are telling us the truth. If we didn’t, communication would really start to break down!
But these ten ways to quickly tell if someone is being honest with you can also help you catch a liar.
If you suspect something, look closely to see if they’re speaking or behaving differently than normal, and listen to what they’re saying to judge if it’s anything they might need to lie about.