If you’re like me, you hate liars. I mean, how hard is it to tell the truth?
Deception will never get you anywhere. But unfortunately, liars seem to be everywhere these days.
So, wouldn’t it be great to tell when someone is lying? Imagine their shock and surprise when you’re able to call them out.
I don’t know about you, but that’s a superpower I’d love to have! Luckily, it’s a superpower we all can have, according to certified fraud examiner, Pamela Meyer.
In one of the most viral TED talks ever, she explains the telltale signs of a liar. Check it out:
If you can’t watch the video now, we’ve summarized her brilliant talk below:
Pamela Meyer says that the first rule of a liespotter is to realize the following: Lying is a cooperative act.
Why? Because the only way a lie can be powerful is if someone agrees to believe it:
“So I know it may sound like tough love, but look, if at some point you got lied to, it’s because you agreed to get lied to.”
Meyer also says that it’s important to remember that not all lies are harmful. “Honey, you don’t look fat in that” is a classic example.
However, serious deception is big business. In fact, according to Meyer:
“Last year saw 997 billion dollars in corporate fraud alone in the United States. Deception can cost billions.”
Meyer says that someone named Henry Oberlander was such an effective con man that British authorities say he could have undermined the entire banking system of the Western world. When this man was interviewed, he said, “Look, everyone is willing to give you something. They’re ready to give you something for whatever it is they’re hungry for.”
And according to Meyer, that’s the crux of it. If you don’t want to be deceived, you have to know, what is it that you’re hungry for?
While we may hate to admit it, we’re looking for something. We wall want to be better wives, better husbands, smarter, richer – the list goes on and on.
And according to Meyer, most of us are more than happy to fill those gaps in our lives with lies.
In fact she says that “you may be lied to anywhere from 10 to 200 times per day”.
Yep, it can tough to hear how prevalent lying is.
But Meyer says that if you look more closely, the plot thickens:
“We lie more to strangers than we lie to coworkers. Extroverts lie more than introverts. Men lie eight times more about themselves than they do other people. Women lie more to protect other people. If you’re an average married couple, you’re going to lie to your spouse in one out of every 10 interactions. Now, you may think that’s bad. If you’re unmarried, that number drops to three.”
We all say we’re against lying, but lying has been part of our culture for as long as humans have been alive.
Meyer says lying has evolutionary value to us a species:
“Researchers have long known that the more intelligent the species, the larger the neocortex, the more likely it is to be deceptive.”
Meyer says that we’re “hardwired to becomes leaders of the pack”. Babies will fake cry, one-year olds learn concealment. Two-year-olds blufff. Five-year olds lie outright. And by the time you enter college, you’re going to lie to your mom one out of every five interactions.
And once you enter the real world, you get cluttered with spam, fake digital friends, partisan media, and a deception epidemic. One author has called this a post-truth society.
So, what can we do?
According to Meyer, there are steps we can take to spot deception.
The telltale signs of deception
Meyer uses the example of Bill Cliton, when he said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky”.
First, she says that with Bill, there was a non-contracted denial. Studies show that people who are over-determined in their denial will resort to formal rather than informal language.
We also heard distancing language: “that woman”.
Meyer says that if Bill Clinton had of said “Well, to tell you the truth”, it would have been even more of a dead giveaway as it’s qualifying language.
Had he repeated the question in its entirety, it would have been a dead giveaway. And also, if he had of used too much detail.
However, Meyer says there’s more to lying than language.
Body language signs
Body language can also be the dead giveaway, but probably not for the reasons you think.
While you might think liars fidget all the time, they don’t. Meyer says “they are known to freeze their upper bodies when they’re lying.”
We think liars won’t look us in the eyes, but again we’re wrong. Meyer says that “they look you in the eyes a little much to compensate”.
Meyer says that a trained liespotter can spot a fake smile a mile away.
She says you can consciously contract the muscles in your cheeks but the real smile is in the eyes – the crow’s feet in the eyes. They cannot be consciously contracted.
The most overlooked factor of lying
Meyer also says that attitude is by far the most overlooked factor in lying.
An honest person is usually cooperative, enthusiastic and willing to get to the truth. A deceptive person tends to be withdrawn, look down, lower their voice, pause, be kind of herky-jerky.
They’ll put too much detail in all kinds of irrelevant places. Meyer says that it’s important to look at what someone says and their expressions. Is it congruent?
She also says liars will shift their blink rate, and point their feet towards an exit.
However, Meyer finishes by saying that’s important to realize that these are red flags, but not proof of deception.
Don’t be too aggressive with your armed knowledge, according to Meyer. We all make flailing gestures all over the place all day long. They don’t mean anything in and of themselves, but when you see clusters of them, that’s your signal.