3 Signs that You’re Probably Being Lied To
Let’s start with this: when it comes to bending (or sometimes breaking) the truth, not all fibs are created equal.
For example, parents who urge their kids to behave lest they end up on Santa’s “naughty” list aren’t racking up bad karma. And when a friend or colleague croons about their major weight loss achievement — but frankly, we don’t notice any difference in their overall physical appearance — smiling and saying “way to go!” isn’t just the better part of wisdom, but it’s the better part of humanity and compassion, too.
However, there are many other scenarios in life when lies are potentially or actually harmful, and could lead to dire consequences — everything from spending tens of thousands on dollars on unexpected car or home repairs, to deciding investing in a can’t-miss startup that quickly turns into an endless money pit, and the miserably, horrifying list goes on.
The bad news is that there’s no absolute, definitive way to detect when someone is lying to us — whether they’re a close family member or total stranger. But the good news is that, just like poker players, liars — even really good ones — typically have “tells” that reveal their intentions are not aligned with their words and actions.
And so, with this in mind, whether you’re buying a car, seeking a raise at work, about to ask your teenager whether she truly came home at 11:00pm last night — or anything else — here are three signs that you’re probably being lied to:
- A sudden change in tone of voice.
If someone’s voice suddenly changes pitch or tone when they’re making a claim, answering a question, explaining an issue, or describing an event, then there’s a good chance that they’re withholding some information; or possibly outright lying. Why does this happen? It’s because in most people, deception causes their heart rate to speed up and their blood flow to change direction. This in turn tightens up their vocal cords and dries up saliva.
Indeed, for this reason many accomplished liars like skilled con artists often carry around a bottle of water, precisely to ensure that their throat remains lubricated as they spin their deceptive web (with this being said, don’t automatically assume that someone who carries around a water bottle or clears their throat is lying — they may simply be thirsty or have something caught in their throat!).
- Curious long answers and explanations.
Generally speaking, folks who are lying use more words than those who are telling the truth. This is because they’re trying to distract attention from the deception. For example, if you ask your teenager what time she came home and she says “Oh, around eleven,” then there’s probably some truth in this.
However, if she says “Oh, around eleven…I’m not the type of person who breaks curfew…you know in school the other day we learned that the word curfew comes from Middle English, and referred to a regulation that requires people to extinguish fires at a specific hour in the evening…I guess they had a lot of people setting fires back then…probably because there was no indoor heating…” then you should probably ask some follow-up questions, or perhaps go straight to the door cam footage for bulletproof evidence of what is likely a curfew-breaking crime.
- A shift in vocabulary
People who aren’t telling the truth tend to avoid using words such as “I”, “me” and “mine”, and instead use words like “they” and “them.” Why? It’s because they’re trying to psychologically distance themselves from the event or issue in question.
At the same time, liars tend to avoid using exclusionary words like “whereas” or “except,” because they are worried — consciously or subconsciously — that they won’t be able to remember their fictional tale if they’re obligated to re-tell it at a later time. What makes this dynamic so challenging for many liars, is that as noted above, they’re also usually compelled to use far more words than they need to (e.g. your teenager and the interesting but wholly irrelevant etymology of the word “curfew”).
So, on the one hand liars don’t want to tell complicated myths because they want to remember them later on, but on the other hand they tend to use a lot of words. For this reason, many liars ultimately end tripping themselves up — an insight that is certainly not lost on professional investigators who keep asking the same questions over and over; not because they expect suspects to crack under the pressure, but rather because they figure it’s just a matter of time before discrepancies emerge: first little ones, and then bigger ones.
The Bottom Line
It’s important to note that the clues and tips above do not — repeat, do not — function as a kind of portable, automatic lie detector (which, by the way, aren’t foolproof). Some people’s voice will change during mid-conversation because they’re tired, thirsty, or had one too many adult beverages while watching a football game. Some people tend to give long, expanded answers or speaking in a lecture or dissertation-style. Some people habitually avoid using personal pronouns and exclusionary words. And some people just have bad memories (actually, most people do), and they may legitimately forget whether the car they saw race past a red light had a New York Jets bumper sticker or a New York Mets bumper sticker.
In other words: spotting liars isn’t as clear and visible as gazing upon a giant billboard from the Landmark Sign Company. However, these clues — along with other evidence — can indicate the likelihood that you’re being lied to. And knowing this could change your future for the better (and, alas, your teenager’s future for the worse!).