5 Ways to Spot a Liar & How to Deal with It

From little fibs to major deceptions, you hear about 200 lies a day. How can you catch the ones that matter? Here are 5 ways to spot a liar, and how to handle it when you do.

Do  you know how to spot a liar? Studies show that the average person is lied to as many as 200 times a day. But don’t lose your faith in humanity, at least not over this. There are as many kinds of lies as there are wildflowers, weeds and poisonous plants. About a quarter of lies are told for someone else’s benefit — downplaying a friend’s embarrassing mistake, for example, or politely laughing at a dumb joke. Many other lies, like claiming you’ve heard of a band when you really haven’t, are simply too trivial to worry about.

But what about more important lies? You might think you can tell truth from fiction when it counts, but get this: People only recognize lies about 54% of the time. Way harsh! Get on the right side of that divide by learning some of the most reliable ways to spot a liar — and how to handle it when you do.


5 Ways to Spot a Liar

Eye contact isn’t everything! It’s a common belief that bad eye contact is a reliable sign of dishonesty, but this is a major misconception. A person may avoid eye contact for a variety of reasons: tiredness, a distracted mood, social awkwardness, or cultural differences in manners. On the flip side, it’s pretty easy for a seasoned liar to learn their way around one of the most well known beliefs about lying there is. Toss this one out — it won’t help you!

Instead, look for more subtle changes in demeanor. Bad liars may show obvious signs of nervousness or discomfort, but even good liars have to focus on the act — and it’s hard to hide that kind of concentration.

1Changes in speech patterns.

We speak differently when we’re really thinking about what we want to say, and a liar has to be very careful. Look for shifts in the way the suspect is speaking. Did they slow down their speech? Did their vocabulary just get a lot more complicated? Are they taking much longer than usual to get to the point, or turning simple statements into confusing roundabouts? These are all clues that this person is thinking very carefully about what they reveal through their words. Ask yourself why that could be.

2Out-of-place body language.

When someone is being honest, most parts of their demeanor are naturally in sync with each other and the situation at hand. That’s hard to fake. Liars may gesture much more as they attempt to “sell” their stories. Or, they may gesture much less than usual in order to appear cool and collected. Is the person holding onto an incredibly casual pose, even when they know they’re under suspicion? Is that how this person would normally behave if they thought they were being wrongly called out? Looking for physical clues that don’t add up to a normal picture is one of the most effective ways to spot a liar.

3Unexplained signs of anxiety.

Micro-expressions are as hard to see as they are to hide, but you may be able to spot hints of anxiety if you know someone well. Lying is like putting on a show, and liars often suffer from stage fright. Reddened cheeks are an obvious sign of nervousness. So are flared nostrils, lip biting, rapid blinking, and changes in breathing patterns. If the person seems out of breath for no reason, or if they’re breathing noticeably more deeply than usual, it could be because they’re worried about their performance.

4Unusual focus on random details.

Liars are on the defensive, and they often get ahead of themselves while trying to curb your suspicions. Is the person answering questions you haven’t asked yet, as if they were already prepared to be questioned? Why?

Other times, liars go on long tangents about obscure parts of the story to try and distract the listener from zeroing in on what matters. If you’re getting a lot of unnecessary information during what would normally be a simple conversation, you might be talking to a liar.

5Listen to your gut.

Instincts are pretty amazing. When you have a strong feeling that something is wrong but you don’t know exactly why, it may be that you’re subconsciously noticing the subtle little things that don’t add up. While we might not be able to recognize micro-expressions on purpose, our senses and perceptions are quicker on the uptake.

You’ll often hear this from infidelity experts and private investigators who spend a lot of time working with what we call women’s intuition: If you have a feeling someone’s not being honest with you — and you’re not usually a paranoid person — you’re probably right.

How to Deal with a Liar

Learning all the ways to spot a liar is only part of the challenge. What do you do if you suspect you’re being lied to? Protect yourself from deception with these three powerful strategies.

Act interested. Instead of going on the attack, challenge the liar by asking for more details.

Oh, really? How did you find that out?

That sounds fun. Who was there?

Wow, what happened after that? 

How weird. Why do you think she would say something like that?

These are all reasonable questions, but they put the burden on the other person to explain themselves fully — and give you a chance to spot holes in the story. If you can stay calm, you can often lead liars to expose themselves for you.

Have witnesses. If you know someone has a tendency to be dishonest, don’t talk to that person alone. Get someone else involved in communications. It’s harder to deceive two than one. And be assertive about this: If this person is weirdly insistent on keeping things between the two of you, they could be trying to protect themselves from later accusations. Don’t set yourself up for a “he said, she said” situation. The only way out of that is a character trial, and odds are you won’t get a proper one.

Get it in writing. If you leave a conversation feeling like there were some dubious claims made, send a nice email recapping what was said. This is particularly useful in work situations. Did your boss just make you a promise? Send a nice email: “I’m glad we agreed to do X and Y. Thanks for the productive conversation.” This can work in personal relationships, too. Once someone knows you’re savvy enough to get everything on the record, they’ll think twice before feeding you a lie.

Depending on what time you’re reading this article, chances are you’ll hear a few more lies by the time the day is done. Hopefully these useful ways to spot a liar will protect you from falling prey to any major deceptions.

What do you do when you feel someone’s being dishonest? Tell us in the comments!


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