Are you a junior sleuth or a budding detective on the trail of a criminal mastermind?
Perhaps you’re just a normal person trying to figure out if someone is being truthful with you or not.
But either way, being able to know when someone is lying is an incredibly useful skill.
The polygraph machine has been in use for over 100 years now, but is it the only reliable way to figure out if someone is lying?
No method is really foolproof, but there are definitely some clues you can pick up on if you look closely.
So here are 12 easy ways to detect a liar in seconds or, at the very least, give you a pretty good idea that you’re not getting the whole truth. I’ve divided them up into two categories – verbal and non-verbal – to give you a better idea of what to listen and look for.
1) Strange manner of speech
One of the clearest signs that someone is lying to you is that their manner of speech is abnormal.
But what does that mean, since everyone has their own mannerisms and way of speaking?
All that I mean here is that their speech is unusual for them, and it could be different in any number of ways.
They could be avoidant, circling around certain topics, or even refusing to refer to certain people (Think “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child!).
They could stress certain details or topics that they normally wouldn’t.
They could even be extremely repetitive with some details, as though by saying something enough times, they can make it true.
But how do you know if any of this is abnormal for that person?
The key is to establish a baseline of their normal patterns first so that you can have something to make a comparison with.
This is easy if it’s someone you know well and talk to often. But for strangers or casual acquaintances, it can be more of a struggle.
If you need to establish a baseline with someone you don’t really know, you can first talk about casual topics – anything you can be quite sure they wouldn’t be lying about – before you move on to what you think they might be truthful about.
2) Talking too loudly
Again, you have to have a baseline to know if someone is speaking louder than normal.
They could just be one of those people who always use their outdoor voice!
But if you are sure that the person is talking much more loudly than usual, it could be because they’re lying.
Does this seem counterintuitive?
You might think that a liar would be quitter so as not to draw attention to themselves. But the opposite seems to be true.
Liars often try to speak loudly ad boldly, precisely so that no one would suspect that they’re hiding anything.
Talk about overcompensation!
3) Higher-than-normal tone of voice
Another quick and easy tell is if a person is talking in a strained, higher-than-normal tone of voice.
When people are stressed, they often respond by clenching their muscles.
This makes sense because humans evolved to react to stressors and dangers through our fight-or-flight responses. Both of these responses require our muscles to be primed and ready, so in stressful situations, our brains order the release of adrenaline, which makes our muscles tighten.
And for all but the most casual and experienced frauds, lying is quite a stressful activity.
This muscle clenching applies to our vocal cords, too, leading to tightening, which can cause people to speak in a higher tone or have trouble controlling the smoothness of their voices.
Either way, this is one sign of a liar.
4) Vocal fill
Vocal fill is the technical term for, like, you know, putting, uh, words that don’t really, er, mean anything into their speech.
And it’s normal to do this.
Trust me – I had a professor who never once ‘hummed’ or ‘ummed,’ and it was incredibly odd!
But when people are doing this a lot more than normal, it could be because they’re lying.
As they try to spin their web of deception, they need to create the story, and they use vocal fill to buy a little time to think.
The truth is already real, so you don’t need any time to make it up!
5) Getting confused in the story
Have you ever heard a little kid lying?
They start out telling you a story; then they say things like, “No, actually…” and “Oh, wait, I mean…” and they totally contradict themselves.
It’s hilarious because it’s so obvious that they’re fibbing.
Well, guess what?
Adults do this, too.
It’s just that as we get older, we get more practiced at lying and more sophisticated. But it’s still always harder to lie than, to tell the truth because you have to create things that didn’t happen.
So with many liars, you’ll see them get lost in their own stories and will confuse themselves almost as much as they confuse you.
6) Unusual eye contact
Eye contact is crucially important in establishing rapport and intimacy. But what happens when people are lying?
Do they give you more or less eye contact than normal?
The answer is… both!
Not at the same time – that would mean moving their eyes independently like a chameleon.
I mean that some liars will give you a lot more eye contact than usual to try to be extra convincing, but others will look away more because they feel uncomfortable.
The key is to look for eye contact that is out of the ordinary, and you may be able to catch a liar in seconds.
7) Dry mouth
Licking lips compulsively, coughing, clearing the throat – these can all be signs someone is lying.
Once again, people have physiological changes when they’re under pressure, and feeling you have to lie can really pressure a lot of people.
If you see signs that the person has a dry mouth for no real reason, it could be a sign they’re lying to you.
Even sipping water or other liquids can be a sign of lying.
The cup comes up to cover their mouth, subconsciously helping them to hide themselves and conceal their deceit.
8) Fake smile
A fake smile is really easy to recognize for most of us.
Genuine smiles cause wrinkles to form around peoples’ eyes, like temporary crow’s feet (unless they’re into Botox!).
But a fake smile, like so many so see on IG these days, is only in the mouth.
This doesn’t always mean someone is lying, of course, but at least it’s a very sure sign that they’re not being genuine.
9) Hand gestures
Just like eye contact, hand gestures are an integral part of human communication.
Do you know that people who are born blind still gesture when they talk to other blind people?
And my dad sure waves his hands around a lot when he’s on the telephone and the other person can’t see him.
Well, just like eye contact, it’s not specific gestures you need to look out for, but whether someone is gesturing a lot more or less than usual.
If they’re gesturing more, it could be because they’re trying really hard to be convincing.
And if they’re unusually still, they could be frozen by fear of being discovered telling tales.
Some people naturally have more energy than others, and they move a lot while they talk, shifting positions and moving their hands a lot.
And we all know those leg-shakers.
But even the most calm and cool person will tend to fidget more under stress.
So excessive fidgeting can be an easy sign to look for if you want to catch someone lying.
Hey, maybe it’s just a hot day?
Well, if it’s not and the person is sweating bullets, it could be because they’re trying really hard to cover something up.
The pressure of being untruthful can have a great effect on some people causing them to sweat profusely even in the coldest weather.
As usual, we’re talking about sweating more than normal. Some people are just sweaty sweat machines. If only they could bottle and sell it!
But if your suspect is mopping their brow and fanning themself, it might be that they’re working in overdrive, trying to pull the wool over your eyes.
General signs of stress can give a liar away.
Besides what we’ve already looked at, you might see a nervous tick, pencil chewing, or hand wringing.
Lying is stressful for most people, and signs of their stress are usually what get them caught.
Remember that trained or practiced liars are able to keep their verbal and non-verbal cues in check. You might have to look for the tiniest micro-expression or the slightest change in their speech.
But most normal people give off these signs when they’re lying that you can easily pick up on.