You are lied to all the time. It’s not a good thing to think about, but it’s true. Every day people will try to cheat you 10 or 20 times. And chances are you’ll tell your fair share of pork pies too.
It’s just human nature. According to research, 60% of people can’t go 10 minutes without lying at least once. Most of the time it will be small lies, but sometimes people will be dishonest with you for their own gain. With that in mind, it might just pay off to be able to see through the wool that people are trying to pull at your eyes.
Using research and techniques from some of the biggest law enforcement agencies in the world, let’s dive into the world of lies and explore some methods to uncover spinners.
1. Establish a rapport and then a baseline
Unless you’re on some sort of military operation and using extraordinary acting and aggressive questioning on a subject, you’ll want to go for the “good cop” routine over the “bad cop” routine.
Cold, confrontational, and accusatory questions will usually end most polite conversations. Even if there is a kind of hierarchical structure. Establish a relationship with the person and they will relax around you. This is the state you want them in. Empathy encourages openness.
Once the person is relaxed, talk about something they probably won’t lie about. Then observe their behavior. You pay attention to how they sit, move and talk. All about them in their “truthful state”. This is your baseline. It’s a poker game. Once they start lying, you can monitor their revelations.
2. Avoid being swayed by signs of nervousness
If someone feels the need to lie to you and you’re preparing to surprise them, chances are you’re having a pretty serious conversation. As such, the person can be expected to be nervous to some degree. Whether they’re cheating or being totally honest with you.
You need to be careful not to over-read the signs of stress, anxiety, or nervousness. Non-verbal communication and micro-expressions can indicate dishonesty, but just be careful not to confuse nerves with lying. It’s a subtle art that can take some time to master.
3. Are you given too many details?
Liars are aware that being too reticent about information can seem suspicious. To counter this, they will often try to sound as open as possible by bombarding the person they are talking to with unnecessary – often unverifiable – details.
4. Pay attention to the authenticity of the smile
Pretend to smile at the camera and it’s pretty obvious in the photo, isn’t it? This is because fake smiles are usually just people manipulating the muscles around their mouth and nothing else. “Real smiles” involve the whole face, with cheeks rolling up and wrinkles appearing around the eyes.
A truthful person will have no real desire or need to fake a smile. Whereas a liar would. Look for that “full smile”.
5. Avoid contradicting or “tripping” the person
To determine if someone is lying, you want them to be relaxed and prone to tripping. Spotting a liar is not a game where you receive points for reporting discrepancies. Be patient and act as if you fully believe the story being told.
6. Ask follow-up questions when you sense a specific lie
Now, you’ll want to be subtle here with this technique, but when you feel like a lie has just been told, press it. As innocently as possible. Probe and see if the person becomes uncomfortable or tries to redirect the conversation.
When you feel a weak point, move on. But surprise them by coming back to the subject later. Use the element of surprise as a tool. Ideally, you want to catch the liar in the act. That way it’s not an accusation, you’ve proven their deceit.
7. Beware of sycophancy
Who doesn’t love a compliment? If your subject is too nice and laughs at all your minor jokes and is exceptionally friendly, take advantage of it. But at the same time, beware.
Also, watch out for someone who seems too eager to agree with you. Add to that the forced laughter and general creepy feeling and it’s a heavy hint of inauthenticity.
8. Listen to the repeats
Repeating words and phrases serves two purposes for the liar. First, it is effectively the dead time that allows them to think – it is the timing. Second, there is a mantra quality to such verbal repetition. Not only will repeating the same set of words make it stick in their mind, but it will likely stick in the mind of the person they are lying to.
Repetition is a red flag, a red flag, a red flag.
9. Ask for the story to be told backwards
A common tactic for liars is to create their lies in advance and practice them. Most often, this will be done via a narrative told in chronological order. Memorized enough, the storyteller can become quite adept at repeating their story, sometimes with such panache and effort that the story becomes almost like a memory.
History must be disrupted. Ask them to cut straight in the middle or at the end. Ask them to say it backwards, maybe. Interrupt their usual flow of storytelling. An honest person should have little or no difficulty jumping along the timeline of events. A liar is likely to flounder unless he is particularly good at verbal deception.
10. It’s all in the eyes
Finally, perhaps the most important tip for anyone trying to become a human polygraph…remember that the eyes are the window to the soul.
There is a common misconception about the relationship between someone who lies and their eye contact. Most people would tell you that if someone avoids looking you in the eye while talking, that indicates dishonesty. It’s not always the case.
There can be a number of reasons why someone isn’t looking at you while talking. However, seasoned liars are usually aware of the common eye contact assumption and will often try to overcompensate. They will try to convince you of their outspokenness by making sure to look deep into your soul.
If you’ve established your baseline well, you may notice this increase in eye contact. They are probably lying to you. And you spotted it.