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Part II: Dramatically Increase Your Ability to Detect a Lie Using the Skills You Already Have

Watching for Deception

Detecting Deception through Observation

I spend most of my time helping professionals all over the world develop the appropriate behaviors for leading people in the workplace, and as such, I have a lot of practice observing people. As I stated in part I of this article series, the key to detecting a lie is establishing a baseline of patterns of behavior in verbal and non-verbal clues. Once the baseline is established, then you should look for clusters of behaviors because the appearance of a single potential sign of deception is often insufficient to accurately detect it. Once you see a cluster, then you should start asking open ended questions to determine if you’re being lied to. Here are my top 10 potential clues that you are being lied to:

  1.  Fake Smiles – A genuine smile uses all of the muscles of the mouth and eyes. Additionally, wrinkles (commonly called crow’s feet) appear in the corners of the eyes. On the other hand, a fake smile only uses the muscles of the mouth. Only 1 in 10 people can fake a genuine smile, so when you see a fake one, pay closer attention to see if other subtle signs of deception appear.
  2. Touching of the Face around the Eyes – when people are being deceptive, they gently (and unconsciously) touch their face around their eyes or rub their eyes. If you see this, keep watching.
  3. Unusually Long Durations of Expressions – genuine expressions rarely last longer than 5 seconds. Anything longer should be considered a probing point, and your observation skills should increase.
  4. Creating Barriers – when people are nervous or uncomfortable, they will create barriers between themselves and others. It might be a cup, a book, or another object but it will be moved between them and others. While it may not be a sign of deception, it is a probing point to be on the lookout for.
  5. Unusual Stillness – As noted in part I, gestures and speech are intricately linked. When someone becomes very still, particularly in their upper torso, keep watching. When people are being deceptive, they are so focused on telling their lie that they stop demonstrating their normal gestures.
  6. Lint Picking – I’ve been known to do this when I’m in disagreement with what’s being said or what I’m observing. When you see someone pick lint (real or imaginary), it should be a trigger for you to observe the person’s body language much more closely.
  7. Avoiding Usage of Possessive Language – If someone is being deceptive, they will avoid using possessive language and possessive pronouns such as “I” as they want to distance themselves from the deception.
  8. Incomplete or Glossed Over Stories – liars will recant what happened, usually spending a lot of time in the set up of the story but glossing over the details of what happened. In addition to lacking details, very rarely will they initially explain how they were affected by the events in their story. If you have to ask about the impact on them, that should be a sign to ask more open ended questions about the event.
  9. Repeating Questions Verbatim – when asked a question, if someone repeats the entire question word for word, keep watching as it may be a sign of a stalling tactic. Truthful people generally repeat only a portion of a question they are asked.
  10. Not Answering Questions – When deception is the goal, answering questions is not. Pay very close attention when someone avoids answering specific questions.

There are many more tactics and strategies for detecting deception, and I highly recommend Lie Spotting by Pamela Meyer and You Say More than You Think by Janine Driver to learn about them. It takes practice and knowing what to look for, and once you do, you dramatically increase your chances of preventing someone from lying to you.

If lies are destroying trust in your organization or if you want more strategies for detecting lies in your professional and personal relationships, email me today at