10 Ways to Detect Deception (part 1)
It’s a fair question: “Just how much does a person’s body language reflect their attempts to hide things, and just how accurate are those indicators?” When you are involved in a confrontation, it’s to your tactical advantage to have some insight into the other person’s honesty or dishonesty.
Among poker players, there is no doubt. In fact, in a recent test, when expert poker players had to play against average poker players who were wearing sunglasses, the number of hands they won decreased. The popular poker “tells” are well recognized by experienced players, but they still are not indicators of a lie necessarily, only arousal…a quick and significant spike in arousal chemicals such as adrenalin.
But life isn’t poker. What are things you might be able to watch for in your daily relationships that could indicate the person in front of you is trying to hide something? Some people are good at hiding their deception, and will be very difficult to “read” accurately. Others will give it up obviously.
As you read this, keep in mind is that there is no single, reliable indicator that someone is lying. All body language must be interpreted in groups of behaviors, and those behaviors must agree before they are meaningful. Even then, it is still an art more than a science. The best you will likely ever achieve is about a 90% success rate. (Although it’s fairly easy to go from a 50% success rate to a 65% success rate.)
Also, it’s important to have a baseline experience of the person you are trying to read. Everyone is different. It is deviation from normal behaviors that you are watching for, not one-size-fits-all lying indicators. Being familiar with a person increases your ability to recognize when “things are just not right.”
Awareness and practice will make you a better “lie detector.” Get in the habit of paying attention to the details of communication behavior in the people you communicate with.
So…here are things to watch for when you are trying to evaluate a person’s truthfulness. I’ll start with the basic and obvious things, and then move on to more sophisticated and subtle indicators.
REMEMBER: These things must be observed in clusters of occurrences that agree in meaning in order to be significant. And REMEMBER: We are always working with probabilities of various magnitudes, and never absolutes in what body language means. The more body language indicators there are in agreement toward a lie, the higher the probability is that the person is hiding something.
Watch for subtle indicators of stress
The classic dilation of pupils (this is arousal and is created by adrenaline, not necessarily lying.)
Slight rise in voice pitch, stress in the voice.
Subtle attempts to suppress facial expression. This often creates slight tightening around the corners of the mouth and eyes.
A smile that involves only their mouth, and not the whole face. This is unlike a real smile, which involves the muscles around their eyes, too.
Watch The Hands
When people have something to hide, they are less likely to use their hands in gesturing. They are less likely to gesture with palms toward you, and are less likely to place the palms of their hands on their chest. They may, however be more likely to touch their face, around their mouths, scratch their nose, etc.
The Eyes Have It
When lying, people will avoid eye contact, reduce and protect eye contact, or they will make unbroken eye contact in order to hide their lie. This is where it helps to have a baseline familiarity with their normal behaviors.
When lying, people will be more emphatic in their expressions, and less likely to use contractions. “No, I did not eat the last cookie in the cookie jar,” is less likely to be true than, “I didn’t eat it.” The famous high-profile example of this very thing is former president Bill Clinton’s emphatic denial, “I did not have sex with that woman.” There are three things about this expression that indicate he had something to hide. The first is the emphatic expression. The second is his implicit and unconscious attempt to depersonalize Monica Lewinski by referring to her as “that woman” in his statement, when not five minutes before, he referred to her as “Miss Lewinski” in the interview. The third is his specific use of the questioners own words in his denial.
A Trick To Try
If the situation warrants, try changing the subject in the middle of the discussion. People with something to hide will welcome the change of subject and will flow right along. Innocent people, especially if they feel unjustly doubted, will often pull the conversation back to the original subject.
Many people will fiddle and fidget with objects while lying. They may spin their hair; fondle their keys, a bracelet, watch, cell phone, handbag, etc. Also, they may place an object between themselves and you, such as a coffee cup, or even a chair. This may constitute an unconscious attempt to place a barrier between you for them to hide behind.
I’ll conclude this topic in the next post, which will include 5 more things to watch for. In the meantime, just for fun, you might enjoy watching me in action demonstrating how this works.
Click here for a complete catalog of my blog posts with a brief description of their content.