12 True Behaviors that Expose Liars
Robert Feldman of the University of Massachusetts reported, “Women were more likely to lie to make the person they were talking to feel good, while men lied most often to make themselves look better.”
All managers and leaders hear lies because people tell them what they want to hear.
12 behaviors that expose liars:
- Pausing while speaking
- Less physical contact and creating physical barriers between them and the person they are talking with
- Touching their face (especially the nose)
- Defending themselves without being attacked or questioned (defensiveness)
- Repeating questions
- Avoiding contractions. “I did not.” Cp. “I didn’t.”
- Avoiding eye contact or establishing uncomfortably long eye contact
- Facial expressions are limited to the mouth; eyes remain neutral
- Looking down and to the right indicates an internal dialog in the listener
- Looking up and to the right indicates a person is tapping into their imagination
- Avoiding direct answers
- Changing the subject
Don’t assume someone is lying based on body language, verbal signals, and eye movements. Establish a baseline before making judgments. For example, are pauses a normal speech pattern or an anomaly.
Confirm your suspicions by:
- Asking more questions; the truth will come out
- Considering motivations: who’s winning/losing – what are they protecting
- Confronting the liar – sometimes they will come clean
More on lying:
Lying at work (includes five ways bosses can get to the truth)
The first lie I told at work (my story of lying to my boss)
What do you do when you think someone is lying?
Have you lied at work? What did you do?
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I wrote an article about this topic that you might find useful: http://www.integritywks.com/view.asp?id=703
I appreciate your leadership blogs very much.
Thanks for sharing your insights.
This is amusing, Dan. I just saw all of these behaviors exhibited by one person at a church meeting recently. But, you are correct, the biggest “tell” lies not in these actions, but in trying to sort out what winning and losing mean to this person. We have discussed this before, but you have to be keen about trying to figure out what motivates people to move the way they do.
For many people, they are trying to defend their territory, or their own tiny kingdom. They don’t want to lose, and sometimes they will avoid this at all costs.
An additional tactic is that these people tend to try to shift the focus of the discussion to the motivations of the person asking the questions, or storming their castle. Again, they will work hard at making the person making inquiries look bad. So, it is important to search our own motivations; because it usually it isn’t about winning and losing, but improving the organization.
Sadly, it is politically incorrect to stand up and shout, “Liar!” as much as you may want to.
Thanks for your comment. You extend the conversation from management/business to public meetings. I can feel the struggle of seeing someone act like you describe and figuring out how to deal with it.
I can tell you didn’t publicly say anything; probably a good choice. 🙂
You have my best wishes,
Dan, although you gave a disclaimer in your “Be Careful” section, you forgot to mention cultural differences.
Culture plays a vital role in communication. For instance, in Asian cultures eye contact is considered rude. People from Pakistan and India like to explain, which does come across as being defensive. Language competence also plays a vital role in communication. People who’s first language is not English tend to translate their thoughts from their language to English. Hence, sometimes, actual meanings do get lost in translation.
But then again, I take it; this article is for Western, English speaking audiences.
Wonderful! Thanks for going global with these ideas.
I try to avoid writing too narrowly. For example, I usually avoid referring to American Holidays etc. I totally dropped the ball this time. Thanks for picking it up.
I have always struggled to sort out he said/she said situations where someone is obviously lying (since the two circumstances so completely oppose each other). I suppose one strategy I take is from the parenting book is: take away something both parties want until the truth comes out. In parenting I suppose it could be postponing a trip to the park or something that both children look forward to. At work, it could be “reward” opportunities such as a leadership training or other “extra” that remain out of reach for everyone until the subject is cleared up.
The most prominent time I lied at work was a bit of omission instead of commission. A thorny issue faced our organization and the Executive Director was not especially worried or proactive even though the adverse effects were hitting enrollee families very hard. I “put a bug in the ear” of a board of directors member who then pursued it with a completely different stakeholder and set in motion a chain of events that got the problem resolved, keeping me out of it (although I have always thought he probably let the ED in on the whole thing behind the scenes). All these years later, I feel I did the right thing even though I would probably work harder now, from the perspective of having more work experience, to get the ED’s attention and/or advise him or her that I planned to escalate the issue.
Your comments always have such wonderful personality. I’m thankful you share your insights with us.
Good weekend to you,
Paula is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. Read her bio at: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/paula-kiger
Excellent post. In most of the cases that I’ve confronted liars, they only admit that they lied when they are backed into a corner and can’t deny they lied because of witnesses. I agree that throwing them off with a well-placed question always helps me figure it out. They usually stumble around while trying to cover up their lie or give reasons for it.
Also, I know from experience that a lack of confidence will cause someone to not make eye contact. I lost my confidence for years and hardly ever looked at people in the eye because of it. I’m still trying to re-train myself to look people in the eyes again when I’m talking to them. I am not someone who has a penchant for lying, so the connection between eye contact and lying isn’t always so. Some people are just shy or under-confident.
Thanks for sharing your experiences.
Your reference to self-confidence is very helpful. Low self-confidence can lead to lying. However, your comment is a powerful and important warning. Don’t assume lack of eye contact points to lying. Well said.
Best to you,
When I see someone lying, I look into eyes with suspicion. I ask direct question and request for short answer usually direct. I also ask the basic assumption behind answer. For example when some one is criticising someone, I just ask, It does not seem so, but whey the particular person is doing so. I try to make posiitve image of the vicitims before the person criticising. For example when some one is criticising someone, I just tell, but the person was appreciating about you. This creates a weak ground for a person lying and he may eventually change his or per perception.
Yes, I have lied at work. I have lied to save someone reputation, to provide some opportunity for someone, to help someone, to bring confidence into someone, to feel someone better than what he or she thinks, to create positive environment around workplace, to remove biasness among people etc. These are the occasions when I have lied at work. I realised them that I am speaking truth. I also convinced them with examples about what I spoke.
I’m thankful for you and your insights. I agree that a strong presence can break down a guilty liar.
Your comment about “positive” lying makes me smile and reminds me that not all lies have negative motivation.
Ajay is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. Read his bio at: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/ajay-gupta
A wise colleague gave me some advice about lying: 1) Don’t do it. 2) If you do choose to lie, only lie about what you can make true by the end of the day.
Thanks for joining in. I decided to say, “I’ll have it to you by the end of the day.”
Dan, do you know if those 12 things extend cross culturally? Just curious- I live in Sudan most of the year- might be helpful to know… One thing I have learned in 5 years is trust your gut. The only times I have gotten in hot water is when I didn’t listen to mine. 😉
Great question. You aren’t the first to question this idea. I am not sure if they do apply. If anything, I suspect they don’t.
Many agree with you that the “gut test” is almost always right.
Thanks for this post, very interesting. Perhaps I should have know a few of these things when I was in the Police Force back in the 1980s!!! We didn’t have CSI and the support from Psychologists etc back in those days.
Well, moving on to today – I have lied, and I am not proud of it. Although your posts says that women often lie to make others feel better, I can honestly say that I have lied to gain an advantage. Why, because I had fallen inot the trap that women needed to really push their presence to get somewhere.
I recently wrote a post about “Speaking the Truth – no matter the cost”. You can find it here http://wp.me/p1iDv8-1X. I tell a story about how one person told the truth, directly to his boss, although it could have meant losing his job. See what you think.
Thanks, Dan, as always for the provoking posts.
Thanks for sharing your story and insights.
Your comment reminds me of the challenges that woman face and feel in a male dominated environment. Your comment suggests that pushing may not be the best strategy. However, everyone must be intentional about getting ahead. Well, I’m off topic but just wanted to resonate with a subtext in your comment.
Thanks for leaving a link to added resources that extend the conversation.
I’m gonna start taking notes* Great input* Thanks*Ble$$ing$**
Nice post Dan.
God bless you.
Thank you Walter.
This is a great post. I work with foster teens, so this post will help me with my work. Have a great fathers day.
Best wishes to you.
OK, how’s this for a conundrum?
Purely hypothetical, of course…
Your boss is seemingly overwhelmed. Several times a week, colleagues, coworkers, other managers, community members and vendors are contacting you to find out why X wasn’t done, or why she hasn’t gotten back to them, etc.
You cover for her – lying to do so – to protect the reputation of the organization.
Untenable situation… or justified lying?
What a powerful story. I wonder if there is a way to tell the truth w/o hurting the reputation of the org. After all, you have great people that are making it happen. Thats a powerful positive story. I wonder if covering doesn’t help? It only prolongs the agony? From a distance all I can do is wonder … YOu have my best wishes for success in your hypothetical situation.
I”m thankful you shared your story.
What’s wrong with going to the boss (in this case) and telling them that you are being asked repearedly about the status of something late, and you’d like to be able to tell them something that can be relied upon by that person, like “we know that this has fallen behind due to a shortage [or personnel or volume, etc.] and an expected action date. The boss then can make the decision of how to respond and might be grateful that you are not just telling what probably sounds like the “standard” line. If the boss has just let everything lapse, then that could be the cue to get going, one way or another. Of course, if they lie to you, now you can spot it…
I discovered your blog today and am impressed with your wisdom & insight. I love your posts. Thank you for sharing.
Just a note: I read your qualifications above about “liars” and the signs to look for. I’m glad you posted qualifications. You may not be aware that there is another group of people who have many of these mannerisms, but they are not usually liars. I have volunteered with some of them and I know a few personally — they are high-functioning autistic / Asperger’s individuals. Some are my customers. I know that many of these people are not aware that they may come across in a way they do not intend — as liars or as untrustworthy.
This is a small group — about 1 in 100 according to recent literature on the subject — but many of them are our engineers, doctors, etc.
I look forward to your future posts. They are outstanding in my humble view.
Thanks for expanding the conversation by sharing your insights.
I have found another tell. If someone is standing, hands at their sides, if the dominant hand slightly moves exposing the palm, this, added to the above, is another sign that what is being said is at variance with the truth.
Thanks for jumping into the conversation.
Sorry Dan, this is pseudo science, 1. no studies will verify any of them, 2. evolutionary: if people were very-very good at these, liars would change their behavior, 3. Family Court judges are convinced they are good detecters and the .9 correlation with gender doesn’t change their mind, 4. number one reason for false conviction: the eye-witness seemed believable, 5. which of these twelve did you see when they told you that “duck and cover” would save you from an atom bomb?
As Reagan said, “trust, but verify.”
I’m delighted you jumped into this conversation.
Even with out the science, the gender difference seems intuitively correct.
I do not think it is pseudo science. I think it is rather disputed science just as much as the evolution theory is claimed to be pseudo science by some. I am not trying to open a dispute on evolution. Only to say, there is a dispute with both sides offering their views.
Also, this study….http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165176507002534 at least supports the male lie aspect of the statement.
The post said these need to be looked at collectively, a baseline I believe.
Studies have indicated that some of the above is false. However, given the circumstances that studies are done under could produce flawed results. Again, it is not the looking on its own.
Did age, socio economic background, gender or any of numerous other factors get included in the study. This is why numerous studies need to be conducted to find a pattern of results.
http://liespotting.com/2010/06/10-research-findings-about-deception-that-will-blow-your-mind/ disputes some of the above. However…..
what if the studies were flawed.
How many times have we heard of scientists lying about their results? For young people who are not experienced at lying, it is still a good indicator.
Glad you dropped in again to extend the conversation with some external links.
Humans lie — whether detected, naively, strategically, or to themselves.
The McMartin preschool fiasco was much about the belief that children don’t lie. That was a lie. Learning to speak truth takes purpose and practice. Reputation and punishment help, but make none of us too perfect.
Feminist beliefs pervade even researchers. They say that only 2% of rape accusers lie, but large empirical studies find 40-60%. Male and female are human, so they lie. Being blind sided by cultural stereotypes, style of dress, or style of lie, is just being fooled. Getting someone else to do your hunting and lying for you may be convenient, but it is small cover, and very costly to others.
A good social norm is like the repeated prisoner’s dilemma game, start off with trust. Not trusting is a non-starter. verification is currency. Lies are costly either to the liar or the fool. Choose. But forgiveness is also a good social norm which is why Axelrod found that tit-for-tat is the best solution to the repeated PD game.
Learning to seek the truth is very difficult. Thanks for the questioning attitude. It is one of the things that helps.
I think there is another aspect of this that has not been addressed by science. One study found that people can lie a few hundred times a day. But what is a lie?
This is the way we are trained as nurses to look at patient statements.
What is a lie? What is saying something at variance with the truth?
Considering all the various truth tests, we can unintentionally lie and we can intentionally lie, or say things at variance with the truth.
It is like the adage about the coin. There are two sides to ever coin. There three sides to a story, your side, my side and the various opinions held in between. This is because the truth is sometimes as we perceive it.
I recently hired a book editor for my book on hospice called “Dying To Be There.” She was the first of five I interviewed that did not have a problem disagreeing with me. Were the others trying to be dishonest with me? Or were they not willing to be brutally honest with me?
While I cannot believe they would be dishonest for the sake of getting the job of editing my book, in the context of this thread regarding leadership, the best leadership will come from knowing the truth. In my case, I needed someone who would be totally frank about my book and not tell me what they thought I wanted to hear.
In the end, if I try to please myself, there will always be one person happy with my accomplishments. I want thousands to read and be pleased with the book. This requires someone who would look at the book from the eye of the consumer and not my pay check.
I do not think the first four lied. I just think they were not totally truthful with me.
So, to some extent, the word lie is ambiguous as is the word truth.
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My business coach tells me I should pause between sentences…but I think she meant that for me, and my excitement about things…which ties into one of your other posts, expressing passion with focus…
One more thought of establishing a baseline.
I have a friend who has Turrets. Although not his tic, he will repeat what ever question I ask. It was so annoying until realizing that this is just him and he does it all the time to everyone. His brain is just hard wired to do this.
Baselines are essential.
It seems to apply to simple facts telling. How about something more intricate requiring actual introspection to express a new concept that you introducing to a person ? Questions are being asked as the thoughts are being put into words and constantly evolving responding to the audience. That creates uneven delivery , as well as looking for your words or imagining a way to express, the best way possible, a message.
How about insecurity and/or simply shyness creating some of those symptoms?
Reading body language is not simple.
This post adds to the discussion: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/6316/
I work for a bully. Plain and simple. He makes me nervous and he makes me the butt of jokes and mean spirited put-downs. He accuses me of lying and spies on me (he has even driven to my house on a weekend to see what I was up to). If I had other job options I assure you I’d leap at them but, I don’t right now. He has damaged my self esteem and self confidence. I have gained 50 pounds since taking the job. I have trouble looking people in the eye. It’s bad. So, not everyone is a liar. We DO have a liar in the office and frankly, I’d love to expose her. Why? Because she lies to his face and then turns around and tells him things about me that are not true. She is the “favored one” and can do no wrong. I want people to see her for what she is. A liar. Other supervisors (who have the same job he has) have come to me and told me they know he is a bully and that I have friends. Thank God. He has been reported but they do nothing! So, if you see me in a church meeting….or in an office setting. I might not look you in the eye. I may seem nervous or less than honest but I assure you. I am 100% honest. Don’t judge. You don’t know what people have been though. I feel so beaten down by this man I don’t know how much longer I can take it. I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same. My life is miserable….but, I have bills and few options right now. Don’t judge. Trust but verify.
To little info
What is the motivation of Thomas Parmalee?
lying becomes a habit when not addressed.
but is “sorry I missed your call, a polite-ism or a lie?”
brutally honest isn’t always the best way to go either.
People like to get rid of you or scapegoat you, when they lie,or get others to gang up on you. truth!!!
Dan, why are you so consistently good? I appreciate what you find for us and how you present it.
One thing I’ve learned is this: If YOU are always accusing others for lying or YOU have zero tolerance for a liar, that’s a crystal clear indication that YOU TOO are a liar. And until you fix YOU first, then YOU can judge anyone else about anything.