Last Updated on April 5, 2020 by Corinne Schmitt
As a mom, it’s really helpful if you know how to tell when a person is lying. This skill helps you parent better and can also help safeguard your children.
When you’re dealing with a liar, it’s almost pointless to have any interaction with them since you can never know for sure if anything they tell you is true.
Trust is really important in my relationships, so I’ve spent a lot of time (for an amateur) studying body language, handwriting, and psychology to help me avoid relationships with people who aren’t trustworthy.
As it turns out, unless someone is a sociopath, it’s very difficult to prevent your body from betraying you if you are lying. That makes it relatively easy to tell when a person is lying.
This is a handy skill when you want to keep your kids on the right path. It also helps protect you from scams. For these reasons, I think all moms should know some basic things about how to tell when a person is lying.
How to Tell When a Person is Lying
I’m going to share with you the most common signs that someone is lying. Please keep in mind that sometimes extenuating circumstances can affect individual’s reactions so while these might be typical behaviors indicating a lie, other explanations might be that the person is distracted or mentally preoccupied with another problem.
In other words, don’t punish someone for lying to you based on the fact that they display the behaviors I’m about to describe. Instead, use them to alert you to people or situations to which you should watch more closely.
Change in Behavior
If you’ve ever watched Judge Judy or a movie or television show where a police officer is interrogating a suspect, you may have noticed that the interrogator typically begins by asking some mundane questions that are seemingly unrelated to the case. They do this to establish a baseline. By asking questions the suspect has no reason to lie about, they develop an understanding of how that person responds to questions truthfully.
Typically a person will change the way they answer questions if they are lying. They may speak faster or slower. If they are animated when answering truthfully, they may become more reserved or vice versa. Each person is different so that is why it’s important to discover their baseline. After you have a good idea of how they talk and behave when they are telling the truth, watch for behavior changes since that’s a signal they are no longer being truthful. They might change their tone, posture, volume, tempo, timing or pitch.
Verbal Response Cues
When someone is lying, he or she will typically use stalling tactics to buy time to come up with a story. Stalling techniques include repeating the question, asking for you to repeat the question, and pondering the question or the motivation for the question without providing an answer.
Watch for repetition. When someone is telling the truth, he or she will offer more details or change the way in which they are presenting the story if you appear to suspect a lie. In contrast, liars want to avoid accidentally contradicting themselves so they will continue to repeat their story almost verbatim.
Liars typically speak with fewer pronouns, particularly the word “I.”
Liars will often try to avoid lying by using indirect denials (e.g. “I can’t believe you think I ate the last cookie.”)
Listen for pauses in response to questions, especially if you have asked a question the person wasn’t expecting. Very few people (only about 4% of the population) are good enough liars that they can come up with one on the spot.
The rest of us need a moment to fabricate an untruthful response. In contrast, if the person being questioned is expecting the question, his or her response will be almost too quick and thorough since he or she is likely reciting a story practiced many times before you asked.
Most people, when being truthful, will lean in towards you and will tend to mirror your body language. Liars are more likely to lean away from the listener and will not engage in typical gesture mirroring.
People often touch their noses, cover their mouths, or cover their throats when they are telling a lie. It’s almost as if we are trying to keep the lie from coming out. Some people will also rub at their eyes or blink longer than usual when lying.
We produce extra adrenaline when we lie because we are stressed. One side effect of adrenaline is increased saliva production. So, frequent swallowing or throat clearing might be an indication that the person is lying.
If you are emotionally close to the person, he or she is more likely to fidget when lying to you.
Watch for incongruence between a person’s words and their body language. For example, if they nod while they are claiming they are saying no, they might be lying.
Also, if your best friend proclaims she just LOVES the gift you gave her but the smile comes late and doesn’t reach her eyes, she’s lying to you to spare your feelings because you gave her a crappy gift. Don’t call her out on the lie, but do use this information to choose a better gift next time!
Tactics You Can Use to Tell if a Person is Lying
Liars feel compelled to fill dead space in a conversation. When you aren’t talking, they aren’t getting any feedback from you as to whether you believe them or not so they will often keep talking to try and elicit a response they can read. So, to catch a liar, stop talking.
If you change subjects suddenly in the middle of a conversation, a liar will typically follow your lead, happy to leave behind the uncomfortable subject about which they were lying. Someone who is telling the truth will be confused and will either try to draw you back to the unfinished conversation or be slow to follow you on to the next topic.
Important Things to Remember
Again, no one behavior on this list can help you know FOR CERTAIN that someone is lying.
If your child tends to exaggerate, rather than tell outright lies, it might be a symptom of low self-esteem. If your daughter has a cold and is constantly wiping her nose and clearing her throat a lot, please don’t jump to the conclusion that she’s lying about where she was all day.
Instead watch for these signs to help you determine when someone MIGHT be lying so that you know when you should dig deeper or when you should let something go.