How to detect lies
In a new book, “Spy the Lie,” three former CIA officers share decades of experience in recognizing deceptive behavior and how you can apply their methods to everyday work situations.
1. Start by asking neutral questions.
By asking someone basic, non-threatening questions, you are able to observe a response baseline. Ask them about the weather, their plans for the weekend, or anything that would elicit a normal, comfortable response. (their name, gender, the day of the week etc) When they respond, observe their body language and eye movement—you want to know how they act when they are telling the truth. Do they shift stance? Glance in one direction or the other? Or look you dead in the eye? Make sure you ask enough questions to observe a pattern.
2. Find the hot spot.
Once you move from neutral territory to the “lie zone,” you should be able to observe a change in body language, facial expressions, eye movement, and sentence structure. Everyone will give different subconscious clues when telling a lie, which is why it’s important to observe a normal baseline prior to entering the lie zone.
3. Watch body language.
Liars often pull their body inward when lying to make themselves feel smaller and less noticeable. Many people will become squirmy and sometimes conceal their hands to subconsciously hide fidgety fingers. You might also observe shoulder shrugging.
4. Observe micro-facial expressions.
People will often give away a lie in their facial expression, but some of these facial expressions are subtle and difficult to spot. Some people will change their facial coloration to a slighter shade of pink, others will flare their nostrils slightly, bite their lip, perspire slightly, or blink rapidly. Each of these changes in facial expression signifies an increase in brain activity as lying begins.
5. Listen to tone, cadence, and sentence structures.
Often when a person is lying they will slightly change the tone and cadence of their speech. They might start speaking more quickly or slowly, and with either a higher or lower tone. Often, the sentences they use become more complex as their brain works on overdrive to keep up with their tale.
6. Watch for when they stop talking about themselves.
People who are lying will also sometimes start removing themselves from their story, and start directing the focus on other people. You will hear fewer me’s and I’s as liars try to psychologically distance themselves from the lie that they’re weaving.
Remember: Everyone has different “lying behavior” so there is no one guaranteed lie-detection method. It’s most important to be able to compare a liar’s baseline behavior to the body movement, facial expressions, eye movement, and verbal cues that they use when they are telling a lie.
Listening for lies
Some of the verbal cues that someone is not being truthful include:
- Failing to answer. Dodging a direct answer to your question may indicate the person is trying to come up with a good answer because he or she doesn’t want to admit the truth.
- Denial. If you ask someone, “Did you do it?” and he or she answers with “I didn’t do it,” “It was not me,” or “I didn’t do anything,” instead of a simple “no,” consider that significant. Giving such answers are a way for the person to psychologically avoid an out-and-out lie.
- Repeating the question. This helps buy the person time while he or she formulates a lie.
- Attacking. “Why are you wasting my time with this stuff?” can be a way to attack the person asking questions when the liar feels backed into a corner. He or she may try to impeach your character or abilities.
- Being too specific. Sometimes a liar may try to “technically” be correct while skirting the truth and provide too much information to create a “halo” effect as they try to manage your perception of them.
- Being too polite. Complimenting you on a great tie or saying “yes, sir” in response to only one question may indicate the person is trying to get you to like him so that you’re more likely to believe him.
- Bringing up religion. Psychologists call it “dressing up the lie” when someone being questioned starts talking about God. Look for phrases such as “I swear to God” or “As God is my witness,” which may indicate they’re “dressing up the lie.”
Looking for lies
There are also nonverbal cues that can indicate someone is being less that truthful. It’s important, the authors note, to consider only those cues that come in direct response to your questions. For example:
- Watch for disconnects. If the person nods affirmatively while responding “no” or shakes his head negatively while saying “yes” then that’s a disconnect, which can be an indication of deceptive behavior.
- Hiding. There’s a natural inclination to cover a lie, so someone telling an untruth may cover her mouth or eyes. The same clue can be given when the person simply shuts her eyes while answering, indicating on a subconscious level that she doesn’t want to see the reaction to her lie.
- Touching the face. Licking lips and pulling on lips or ears can be an indication of a lie. Why? A person’s flight-or-fight response can kick in while lying, prompting blood to rush to certain areas and trigger a sensation of cold or itching.
- Moving anchor points. Anchor points are those areas that keep someone in a particular spot or position. A person standing uses feet as anchor points, while a person in a chair is using the buttocks as an anchor point. Once those anchor points start shifting, it can be a sign of deceptive behavior. The authors note they often place interviewees in a swivel chair because it can become a “behavioral amplifier” and make anchor point movements easier to spot.
- Grooming. A man might adjust his tie or a woman straighten her skirt or move her hair when responding to a question. They may even begin to tidy the area. Such gestures in response to a particular question can indicate deception.
Finally, one of the best ways to make sure you’re getting all the information you need is to ask a catch-all question, such as “Is there anything else I need to know about this incident?”
“You can’t think of every question to ask, and they may not tell you if you don’t ask directly,” he says. Asking that catch-all question can often give you some very good information.