Operations

How to Tell If Someone Is Lying to You

Denis Wilson
Posted on April 23, 2013

Don't Get Fooled Again

Do you sense your employees are not being 100% truthful with you? Do you worry that the proverbial wool keeps you from seeing what is really going on in your business? If so, Karen Purves, speaker at the International LCT Show, suggests that you become a “lie spy” and hone your skills for detecting if people are telling you the truth.

“Ordinary people lie a lot,” Purves says, in order to quell insecurities, build friendships or avoid disagreement. “All of us are liars to a certain extent.” But lies also can be damaging. They can impair our ability to trust others. They create distance between people. “If a lie succeeds, someone is fooled. It puts an emotional smudge on the conversation,” she says.    

Based on what Purves had to say, we could all do better at reading others. In general, people are poor at detecting lies. “We can differentiate truth from lies only 47% percent of the time,” Purves says. “Worse than flipping a coin.”
The good news is that by better understanding human behavior, honing your observations, and trusting your gut, you increase your chances of getting to the truth. Purves shared these tips with seminar attendees:

Get a Baseline

Look for unconscious behavior that reveals what someone really thinks. Especially revealing are signs of abnormal behavior for that person. To do this, you first need to have a sense of what is baseline, or normal, behavior for that individual. “Deviating from this shows a sign of distress,” Purves says — stress from a fear of getting caught fibbing.
Purves suggests observing how a person acts when you ask questions that should cause anxiety versus those that should elicit comfortable answers. Then when you ask a question on the topic of true concern, watch if the person is anxious or relaxed.

Body Language

Most people have unconscious ticks — such as twirling hair or scratching the nose — that we do without thinking. But in some cases, these outward displays may be physiological responses to the anxiety and hard thought involved with formulating lies. “Sometimes you’re just nervous, sometimes you’re nervous and lying,” Purves says.

Here are some signals to watch for:

  • Wrinkled forehead
  • Momentarily sticking out tongue
  • Biting inside of cheek
  • Lower tone of voice
  • Leaning away
  • Touching face
  • Covering body parts with arms, hands, clothing or notebook
  • Fake smiles (a true smile is in the eyes, not the mouth)


Getting to the Truth

If you get a hunch from your observations that someone isn’t being straight with you, sit down with that person to talk and ask questions, Purves says. For example, Purves suggests using the line, “It’s important to me…so please tell the truth.” Ask the person to look you in the eyes. And don’t be afraid to ask outright if you are being told the truth. She discourages accusatory language by using the line: “Maybe I’m wrong here — let me know — but it seems that you’re…”


Along the way, your gut instincts can provide good evidence if someone is trustworthy, Purves says, but be aware that you also could be wrong.

Related Topics: business management, employee issues, How To, operations

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