12 Ways to Spot a Liar at Work
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Your boss tells you that “this
change is for the best,” but as she speaks, you notice her stiff body
posture and forced smile. Is she being honest with you?
Your co-worker says he’d be
happy to help you with your project, but he seems to pause a long time
before answering - and while talking, his eyes stay focused on his
computer monitor. Can you trust what he says?
“You can count on my support."
"It wasn't my fault."
"You're next in line for a
Wouldn’t it be great to know
when we’re being lied to? And, wouldn’t it be nice if exposing
falsehoods were as easy as it is portrayed on television shows like
“Lie to Me” and “The Mentalist?” But of course, those are entertaining
fantasies. In real life, human beings are more complex than that. And,
as commonplace as deception is, deception detection remains an inexact
For the vast majority of the
individuals you work with, the act of lying triggers a heightened
stress response. And these signs of stress and anxiety are obvious, if
you know where to look. Basically, what we’re finding is that the mind
has to work a lot harder to generate a false response. One theory –
posed by Daniel Langleben, a psychiatrist at the University of
Pennsylvania – is that, in order to tell a lie, the brain first has to
stop itself from telling the truth and then create the deception, and
then deal with the accompanying emotions of guilt, anxiety, and the
fear of being caught.
Spotting deception begins with
observing a person’s baseline behavior under relaxed or generally
stress-free conditions so that you can detect meaningful deviations.
One of the strategies that experienced police interrogators use is to
ask a series of non-threatening questions while observing how the
subject behaves when there is no reason to lie. Then, when the more
difficult issues get addressed, the officers watch for changes in
nonverbal behavior that indicate deception around key points.
In business dealings, the best
way to understand someone’s baseline behavior is to observe her over an
extended period of time. Note her speech tone, gestures, blinking
patterns, etc. Once you’ve assessed what is “normal” for a co-worker,
you will be able to detect shifts, when her body language is “out of
character.” Just remember (and this is key), that the atypical signals
you detect may be signs of lying -- or a state of heightened anxiety
caused by many other factors.
One of the biggest body language
myths about liars is that they avoid eye contact. In fact, many liars,
especial the most brazen, may actually overcompensate (to prove that
they are not lying) by making too much eye contact and holding it too
My best advice is not to rely on
any one signal. You'll be more successful if you look for clusters of
behaviors (three or four body language cues that reinforce one
another). To increase your chances of spotting a falsehood, watch for a
cluster of body language cues that include:
1. A fake smile. It’s hard for liars to
real smile while seeking to deceive. (Real smiles crinkle the corners
of the eyes and change the entire face. Faked smiles involve the mouth
2. Unusual response
When the lie is planned (and rehearsed), deceivers start their answers
more quickly than truth-tellers. If taken by surprise, however, the
liar takes longer to respond – as the process of inhibiting the truth
and creating a lie takes extra time.
3. Verbal cues. When lying, a person's
tone will rise to a higher pitch. Other verbal cues include rambling,
selective wording (in which one avoids answering the question exactly
as asked), stammering, and the use of qualifiers ("To the best of my
knowledge." "I could be wrong . . . "). It's also been noted that liars
use fewer contractions: "I did not have sex with that woman . . ."
rather than "I didn't . . . "
4. Under or over
production of saliva. Watch for sudden swallowing in
gulps or the increased need to drink water or moisten lips.
5. Pupil dilation. One nonverbal signal
almost impossible to fake is pupil dilation. The larger pupil size that
most people experience when telling a lie can be attributed to an
increased amount of tension and concentration.
6. Change in blink rate. A person's blink
down as she decides to lie and stays low through the lie. Then it
increases rapidly (sometimes up to eight times normal rate) after the
7. Foot movements. When lying, people will
display nervousness and anxiety through increased foot movements. Feet
will fidget, shuffle and wind around each other or around the
furniture. They will stretch and curl to relieve tension, or even kick
out in a miniaturized attempt to run away.
8. Face touching. A person’s nose may not
when he tells a lie, but watch closely and you’ll notice that when
someone is about to lie or make an outrageous statement, he’ll often
unconsciously rub his nose. (This is most likely because a rush of
adrenaline opens the capillaries and makes his nose itch.) Mouth
covering is another common gesture of people who are being untruthful,
as is covering the eyes.
9. Incongruence. When a person believes
is saying her gestures and expressions are in alignment with her words.
When you see a mismatch -- where gestures contradict words – such as a
side-to-side head shake while saying “yes” or a person frowning and
staring at the ground while telling you she is happy, it’s a sign of
deceit or at least an inner conflict between what that person is
thinking and saying.
10. Changes in gestures. Often times, in
the effort not
to let their gestures "give away" the lie, deceivers will hold their
bodies unnaturally still. At other times, especially after being asked
a searching question, you may notice liars accelerate pacifying
gestures -- biting their lips, rubbing their hands together, fidgeting
with jewelry, touching their hair.
11. Micro-expressions. Difficult to catch,
but if you
ever spot a fleeting expression that contradicts a verbal statement,
believe what you see and not what you hear.
12. The quick-check
This generally follows a less-than-truthful response: Liars will
immediately look down and away, then back at you for a brief glimpse to
see if you bought the falsehood.
One final caveat: If a person
really believes the lie, there is no way that can detect that
falsehood. But, unless you are dealing with a pathological liar or a
superb actor, I know you can become better at spotting those who try to
About the Author
Carol offers energizing, informative,
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contact Carol about speaking or coaching, call 510-526-172 or email
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2012-04-16 13:44:07 in Personal Articles