Signals That You're Being Lied To
5 telltale signs — plus 5 tips for getting to the truth
En español | "Sorry, I have to work late again tonight."
"All we need to qualify you for this offer is your Social Security number."
"This isn't going to take any more than a few minutes."
See also: Common investment scams to avoid.
Do you suspect someone is lying to you? You can't read anyone's mind — which is probably a good thing in most cases — but, according to a new book called Spy the Lie, there are easy ways to determine whether you're probably being duped. The authors claim that if you know the physical and verbal tics to look and listen for, you can be as accurate as a polygraph test.
They should know. Philip Houston, Michael Floyd and Susan Carnicero are former CIA officers who've condensed the wisdom they've gleaned from decades of busting bad guys. Here are five red flags that should raise your suspicions that perhaps you're being deceived.
1. The person repeats your question, or offers nonanswer statements such as "That's a good question" or "I'm glad you asked that." These responses might signal an attempt to buy time while formulating a believable response. Similarly suspicious is an uncharacteristic pause before answering what you consider a straightforward question ("Have you ever been fired from a job?").
2. You get answers that are what the authors call "convincing statements." They're responses that aren't meant to convey information but rather to influence your perception of the speaker. If you ask, "Did you take my wallet?" you might hear, "I wouldn't do something like that," or "I am an honest person." You were expecting a simple "no."
3. The speaker invokes religion ("I swear on the Bible" or "As Allah is my witness"). Psychologists call this "dressing up the lie." It's another form of a convincing statement. In other words, they doth protest too much.
4. A hand covers or touches the speaker's mouth or eyes. A natural reaction while telling a lie is a desire to hide it. The speaker might display this in literal form by placing a hand near or over the mouth. Obscuring the eyes might indicate the speaker's unconscious desire to be shielded from the interviewer's reaction to the lie.
Also note that, contrary to conventional wisdom, a lack of eye contact is not a reliable indicator of lying. A deceptive person who forces a direct gaze because it's universally associated with truthfulness could have better eye contact than an honest person, Houston says.
5. The speaker can't stay still. Someone sitting with one leg crossed over the other, for example, might start wiggling a foot. Wringing or rubbing hands is another giveaway, along with grooming gestures, such as adjusting clothes, inspecting nails or scratching. "The nervous system is trying to dissipate the anxiety," Houston says.
Let's assume that you're talking to someone and detect red flags. Here are tips to help you tease out the truth:
1. Ask questions that demand more than yes or no answers. If you ask a potential hire, "Did you ever have any problems with a previous employer?" it's too easy to deny with a flat "no." Rather, try, "No job is perfect. What kinds of issues have you had with previous employers?" The truthful person probably won't need time to process the answer, and it'll almost inevitably elicit a more revealing response.
2. Keep most questions short. The person you're speaking with is thinking many times faster than you're talking (that's how our brains work), so don't allow him or her much time to concoct a misleading response.
3. At the moment you notice more than one red flag, probe further. Say, "Tell me more" or "What else?" or "Why do you say that?"
4. Stay cool. The nonconfrontational approach works best — even when, the authors insist, they've interrogated alleged terrorists. "You don't ever want to be accusatory," says Houston, but rather always aim for "low-key and matter-of-fact."
5. End with a catch-all question, such as "What haven't I asked you that you think I should know about?" You never know what new information you'll discover.
Also of interest: Outsmarting the scam artist.