3 Ways to Tell When Someone Is Lying to You

by Brian Carey on September 19, 2013
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Too many people out there are willing to sacrifice their integrity for personal gain, especially when it comes to commerce. As a small-business owner, having the ability to detect deception may prove crucial to protecting your interests.

It can help you during negotiations, as you may pick up on the other person’s “tell,” such as when his or her gestures don’t match the verbal statements being made. This suggests that he or she is in a weaker position than he or she is openly admitting. It can also help you during on-the-job conflicts, especially in situations in which resolving a dispute involves believing one employee’s word over another’s.

Here are three ways to determine whether someone is lying to you.

1. Ask for details. Liars often make sweeping generalizations in lieu of providing specific information. The reason for this is simple: As Mark Twain once said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Liars, on the other hand, must recall the particulars of their fabrications to avoid getting caught. If you think someone is trying to deceive you, press for details.

2. Notice when someone avoids saying “I.” Jeffrey Hancock, an associate professor of communication at Cornell University, studies lying, especially online. He tells RealSimple.com that, in his research, he’s noticed that people avoid talking about themselves in the first person when they aren’t telling the truth. Instead, they refer to themselves in the third person (“this is a guy who means what he says”) or drop the direct reference to themselves (“just telling it like it is” instead of “I’m just telling it like it is”).

3. Learn to read body language. Nonverbal cues can tell you more than a liar would have you know. One of the best ways to tell when someone’s fibbing: He or she won’t make eye contact. Raising a hand close to one’s mouth is another telltale sign of deception, because it’s a subconscious means of “covering up” the lie. Crossed arms indicate that a barrier is being created, which may also signal deceit. Other means of compensating for discomfort, such as removing lint from a sleeve, adjusting clothing, or fixing a shoe strap, can indicate lying, too.

Brian Carey is a business writer for Intuit who is passionate about solving small business problems.

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