How To Tell If Someone Is Lying, From Body Language Experts
Finding out you've been lied to never feels good, no matter the intention. Rather than becoming the victim of someone else's dishonesty, many people will attempt to catch a liar in the act. But according to body language experts, lying is one of the hardest expressions to read, and you're probably going about it all wrong.
To figure out how to more accurately catch someone in a lie, mbg consulted behavior analyst Scott Rouse and body language expert Blanca Cobb, M.S. Here are the mistakes most people are making about deception and some tricks to keep in mind.
How to tell if someone is lying:
Analyze their baseline behaviors.
Unlike certain body language signals, Cobb says there is no universal sign for lying. The telling mannerisms tend to differ from person to person. So, the best way to find out if someone is lying is to analyze their baseline movements and expressions.
"When you get somebody's baseline, that's how they typically act when they're in a situation where they don't have to lie," Cobb explains. To do this, she suggests asking standard questions or starting conversations that wouldn't warrant a lie, such as:
- What did you eat for breakfast?
- Where was your last vacation?
- Tell me about your neighborhood.
- What's your favorite song?
"When you're sizing up their baseline behavior, pay attention to how they move," Cobb advises. Take into account eye movement: Do they continue looking at you, do they look up to the right, or do they look down? Simultaneously, listen to their voice: Are they animated, or do they grow quieter? "All these things help you get a sense of how they typically behave," she says. These clues are commonly used together to help read people's emotions in any given situation.
Pay attention to how their behaviors change.
After getting a sense of someone's baseline, it's easier to tell when their demeanor and behaviors change. Casually bring up the conversation you think they may be lying about, and look out for those subtle shifts. For example: if they normally look up to the right while talking, see if they're suddenly making direct eye contact.
According to Rouse, the belief that liars don't make direct eye contact is false. In fact, he says, most liars will do the opposite. "If someone is lying to you, they know you think a person who is lying will break eye contact," he says. "So they won't break eye contact." This is a method used to further deceive.
Look out for fading facts.
When someone is lying, they will often grow quieter toward the end of a sentence. "It almost fades out," Rouse says, which is why he dubbed this behavior a fading fact.
"When you experience this behavior after getting an answer to your question, don't say anything," he suggests. Just wait quietly and look at the person. "Most of the time the liar will begin using qualifiers to dress that lie up and make it sound more believable." If they don't continue embellishing the story, it may not be a lie.
Don't be accusatory from the start.
As with any body language, like crossed arms or smiling, the message can be misinterpreted. Even if you think someone is lying to you, don't be accusatory upfront, Cobb says. This will generally make the person mad or, at the very least, defensive and less likely to talk.
Instead, she suggests dropping the subject, making unrelated conversation, and bringing it up again casually the next day. If details in the story change in that time, that may be a sign it was untrue, she says.
Determining whether or not a person is lying can be difficult. Accusing someone of lying when they're not can also be hurtful. It's important to take in every detail, see how the person shifts both in their body language and their story details, and open up the floor for an honest conversation if you need to.
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.