7 Signs That You’re Lying

Are you lying to me? – Probably.

University of Massachusetts psychologist Robert Feldman has studied lying, and has reached some startling conclusions. Most shocking is that 60% of people lie 2-3 times during a typical 10-minute conversation! Most of the people in Feldman’s studies didn’t even realize all of the lies they told until after the conversation, when it was played back to them on video. So we lie. Why?

“We learned two simple truths as children – to tell the truth or to keep a friend. And that one adage has complicated our lives ever since.” ~ Joseph Grenny

We lie to appear more likable, intelligent, and competent. I had an candidate tell me once in an interview, “I am the most humble person you have ever met.” Wow. Promoting our humility seems like an oxymoron. Dr. Feldman also found that “women were more likely to lie to make the person they were talking to feel good, while men lied most often to make themselves look better.”

“A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar.” – Mark Twain

New research by Dr. Leanne ten Brinke at the Haas School of Business suggests that, while most of us have pretty good instincts when it comes to recognizing liars, we hesitate to call out lying in professional environments because we feel guilty for being suspicious. Calling someone a liar for no good reason is a frightening proposition for most.

Dr. ten Brinke’s research points to objective, well-documented physiological and behavioral changes – or “tells” – that we can use to make accurate assessments of other people’s truthfulness. Both her work and that of Dr. William Ury (Harvard) in Getting to Yes, can help us recognize autonomic behaviors in others and ourselves, in order to increase our truthfulness. Here are seven “tells” that may indicate someone is lying:

1. They cover their mouths. As children, when we were embarrassed, wrong, or lying, we covered our whole face. As adults, this behavior has morphed to be slightly more acceptable by covering our mouths while we speak. This may be a good time for us to question the comments, as it may indicate the speaker is not sure or confident of the truth in their their statements. In fact, it may be an indicator of them outright misdirecting or lying.

2. They cross their arms. You have to view this action contextually. They may cross their arms because they are comfortable, and to read this as defensive may be inappropriate. But if they cross their arms, immediately following a strong statement in the middle of an emotional or high stakes conversation, that may mean anger or defensiveness. Context is King. The more stressful the environment, the more these nonverbal cues may mean to their underlying message. Crossing arms also protects our belly. The soft belly in the animal kingdom is a target of attack, and we protect ourselves by crossing our arms.

3. They repeat themselves and provide too much detail. Liars hate silence, so they often try to fill it up by talking more than they need to. They provide far more information than was needed or asked for. Sometimes the longer you stay quiet the more details liars will throw in to support their story as they try to convince you, and themselves, of their deception. In lying they will also repeat phrases over and over again as they struggle to buy time to gather their thoughts.

4. They prepare for an escape. In an unconscious attempt to find an escape route, people who are lying often angle their bodies toward the door if they’re sitting, and if they’re standing, they may even move closer to the door. They may also change their posture from relaxed to erect or guarded as their bodies perk up in unconscious preparation for an escape.

5. Their words and body language don’t match. It’s easy to lie with words, but our bodies know (and show) the truth. A clear sign that someone is lying to you is when their words are saying one thing and their body language is saying something entirely different. For example, when Bill Clinton denied relations with Monica Lewinsky in the infamous press conference, he looked one way and was pointing in another direction. Mixed body language leads to mixed meaning. Audiences pick up on these cues.

6. Their breathing changes. People reflexively start breathing more heavily when they lie as lying causes changes to heart rate and blood flow. Sometimes liars will even have trouble speaking as the mucous membranes in the mouth dry out as part of the body’s response to lying.

7. They change their typical patterns of eye movement. They say that the eyes are the “windows to the soul.” That’s especially true when someone is lying. But there’s a catch: it’s not where the person is looking that matters, but a change in direction. Some people, for instance, look up and to the right when they’re remembering information, but down when they’re lying. For other people, it’s the opposite. A change in eye movement can be a very strong indicator of lying. However, there is one eye movement “tell” that’s pretty universal: people who are lying often look toward the door, their unconscious escape route.

Be Astute or Be Duped


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