Have you ever had a conversation and just had a feeling that the other person is lying to you? Most of us have, though we can’t always say what it is that makes us feel that way.
The easy explanation is that you may have first-hand knowledge of what happened, so you know they are lying because you know the facts. Other times, you may be picking up on subtle signs that you subconsciously interpret.
When you pick up on those subconscious signs, you can’t put your finger on why. This makes you second-guess yourself.
Instead of writing it off, you can subtly work to confirm those suspicions. Here are 9 things you can do to tell if someone is lying to you.
How to Tell When Someone Is Lying
It may take a while, but you can actually start using these steps to start telling when people are lying to you.
1. How fast do they answer questions?
When someone asks you a question – and you answer it honestly – notice that you pause to consider your answer. If you are going to tell a lie, you’ve probably already thought about your answer.
If someone seems to have answers on the tip of their tongue, there’s a good chance that person is lying. They have anticipated what questions will be asked, so have planned answers. That’s why they don’t have to stop and think – -they are waiting for you to ask so they can immediately respond.
2. Find three ways to ask the same question.
This one is a bit trickier because you need to come up with three different ways to ask the same question. Don’t ask them one after the other, but after a few other questions. You want to spread out the questions over a period of time so they are less prepared the next time.
When people lie, they are far less likely to provide the same answer every time when you change up the way you ask the question. They are probably anticipating a particular question, so when you ask the same one, it will take them off-guard. If someone is telling you the truth, it will be easy to give the same answer, even if it is worded differently. If someone is lying, well, it’s a bit harder to keep track of what they previously said.
By the time you ask the question again, it will probably annoy the other person, but if they are telling the truth, they won’t have a problem answering it. If they are lying, you will probably get another slightly different answer.
3. Can you get them to tell the story in reverse?
When someone has actually experienced an event, when they relay it, the story will be the same, no matter how they tell it. They can tell it from start to end, usually with a bit of bouncing around as they recall bits, or they can tell it back to front.
It is much, much harder to talk about an event from back to front. If someone is lying, they will have gone through the scenarios from the beginning to the end, so they will be comfortable going through it the first time. As soon as you ask them to reverse the story, you’ll find that they are going to have a much harder time.
Someone telling you the truth may introduce new information as they relive what happened. A liar will almost certainly start to contradict themselves. The things that they get right will probably follow the next sign that someone is lying – repetition.
4. Are they repeating phrases and words?
When you experience something – no matter how traumatic – you are probably going to use different words to describe the events. You’ll have more details and points that you recall as you talk.
When people lie about something, they tend to latch onto a few phrases or words, and then repeat them. If you have ever watched an interrogation or someone lying to the news, you’ll notice that they tend to repeat themselves. This is a way of reinforcing their story – think about someone trying to say something often enough until it’s true. It won’t work, but that doesn’t stop people from trying.
There is another reason to repeat words and phrases – it takes a lot of cognitive resources to come up with a lie and then maintain it. It is far easier to keep that lie going by using the same phrases because you aren’t going to contradict yourself.
5. Watch for stalling tactics.
After showing a few cracks by making changes to their story, getting a little more animated, and repeatedly saying the same things, the other person is probably starting to suspect you know they are lying. No one wants to be caught in a lie.
To give themselves a bit more time, they may start using stalling tactics so they have a few more seconds. The most common methods of stalling are by repeating what you are saying.
Let’s say you just asked, “Were you out drinking at 10pm last night?” If the other person responds by asking, “Was I out drinking last night?” what comes next is probably going to be a lie. The person is probably considering why you are asking that question and trying to guess why you would ask that. What they want to do is to calculate an answer that would explain any potential why you would ask. The answer should also make them look innocent.
Yeah, they are trying to think several steps ahead while still trying to make their story believable. It takes a lot to do that, so getting a few seconds by repeating what you said gives them time to come up with something else.
6. If you think they are providing too much detail ….
They almost certainly are. The answers that someone gives should match the question. If you feel that someone has ended up monologuing after you ask them a simple question, they are padding their answer, trying to answer questions they know you will ask, and overwhelming you with information.
If you have ever watched Community, this is the character Annie’s biggest tell. Whenever someone asks her a question, she will go overboard with an answer that provides information that no one asked for.
Answering your question with details specific to the actual question is fine. Getting off topic and providing answers that are loosely connected to the question – or at best only loosely connected – that’s a sign that they are rehearsing a lie, not telling you the truth.
7. Are they vague when they should have details?
It’s funny how some people can manage to give too much detail and yet not enough. When someone is lying, this is often what they do.
Notice how they may answer questions you didn’t ask, but they don’t give you a real answer to the questions you do ask. When you ask a question a second or a third time, you realize that the answer is still just as vague – or completely contradictory.
By this point, you are probably seriously questioning how honest the person is being. If they can’t provide details to your questions, that almost certainly means that they haven’t had time to come up with an answer – because what they are telling you isn’t the truth.
8. Ask random questions.
You can really start to trip a liar up by asking them questions they can’t answer. So far, they’ve been vague when it mattered and detailed when it didn’t make sense. Now you can really start putting their imagination to the test.
There are many reasons to ask random questions. You can help them calm down by asking about something you know they will answer honestly, helping them to get comfortable again, putting them off of high alert. You can also ask more intense questions about things they should know.
Random questions usually should still be related to the story they are telling – if they are telling you the truth, they should be able to pause and consider the right answer. If they are lying, it’s going to be much easier to tell at this point because they will be contradicting early points, stalling, or trying to distract you from the increasingly obvious fact that they are lying.
9. If you have evidence, wait until the opportune time to use it.
Keep your cards close to the vest, then use it when the person has repeatedly lied to you about the same thing. Once they have repeated a lie enough times, you can let the person know what you know.
Parents love to use this one with their kids. Say you see your kid chatting with friends online instead of working on their homework. Later at dinner, you ask them how close they are to finishing their homework, and then you listen to a long story about how much work they’ve put into it. They say they are nearly done, but you know that during that time, your kid was goofing off. Once you’ve heard their story, you can ask them how a friend is doing. When your kid tries to say they don’t know because they haven’t talked to their friend, that’s when you bring out what you saw earlier.
You don’t need to be in a profession where you need to spot a liar to do your job. We all deal with people lying to us – pretty much every day. Especially if you are a parent.
It may take some time to get adept at these methods – police, detectives, and agents are trained how to do this. But once you get used to it, you will be able to more easily find out when someone isn’t being honest with you.
Remember that any one of these on their own – or even a couple of them – doesn’t mean someone is lying. But if you catch someone doing all of these, you are probably talking to someone who is lying to you.