8 signs someone is dishonest, according to psychology

Dealing with dishonesty is one of the most challenging aspects of human interaction.

You might think you know someone (or at least you think you do), but their actions and words are starting to set off some spidey senses and raising a few red flags.

You’ve maybe tried to brush it off, given them the benefit of the doubt and dished out second chances… 

But something still isn’t adding up.

And sometimes, it’s not even a big lie. It’s a teensy tiny white lie, that seems all doe-eyed and innocent.

But it’s just these small inconsistencies and slip-ups that give you a worrying gut feeling that this person may not be as truthful as you initially thought.

So, to help you choose the next best step and protect yourself against the deceitful people out there, here’s how to know for sure that someone is being dishonest, according to psychology:

1) Inconsistent with their storytelling

Dishonesty is often revealed through the little inconsistencies in someone’s stories that you often overlook.

Generally, when a person is being truthful, their stories tend to stay the same and contain the same details…

Because they’re rooted in reality, and that person is just retelling what actually happened.

However, when someone is being dishonest, they have to remember the lie and all its intricate details each time they tell it.

And that’s where things get messy.

Because they’re often making it up as they go, they might change a detail here, forget a fact there, or even add something totally new and out of place.

So if you’re noticing these inconsistencies in someone’s stories, then that’s a clear psychological indicator of their dishonesty.

2) A selective memory

On top of misremembering little details in the narratives they tell, dishonest individuals tend also to choose which memories they do remember, and those they don’t.

They have a peculiar knack for ‘forgetting’ certain conversations or events, especially if they’re not a fan of how said event paints them out to be, as a person.

One day, they’ll remember a conversation in vivid detail and the next, that same conversation was forgotten and wiped away – as if it never happened.

This behavior is so incredibly confusing and frustrating. It leads the listener to second-guess themselves, wondering if they are the one misremembering things after all.

However, this selective memory is a form of evasion – a way to avoid being held accountable for their words or actions.

So if someone seems to conveniently forget conversations or events that could potentially expose their dishonesty, that’s another sign you’re dealing with someone who isn’t being truthful.

3) Their body language doesn’t match their words

Body language experts have debated for decades about how much physical signs give away a liar.

Some still believe that scratching your nose or ears, avoiding eye contact, or fidgeting excessively is a clear indication of lying.

Others have retracted this theory, and find little link between body language and truth telling.

The general best approach is to try and compare how this person is acting to how they normally act.

Any massive deviations from the norm suggest an anxious mind grappling with the elevated blood pressure and worries brought by telling mistruths.

Your subconscious often reveals more than your words do. The disconnect between what someone is saying and their body language, can be a strong indicator that someone is not being honest – so keep an eye out for sweaty foreheads and nervous twitches!

4) Oversharing

Now, this might seem counterintuitive, but dishonest people often go into a frantic overdrive when explaining or justifying themselves.

In the world of psychology, this phenomenon is called “overcompensation“. It’s a defense mechanism where individuals try to cover their tracks by providing more information than necessary, to try and throw the other person off their tracks.

So next time your friend apologetically shows up late, keep an ear out for an extended narrative that involves a big blue bus driving slowly behind them, a sleek badger they had to save from collision, their quaint neighbor dropping off hand baked ginger biscuits just as they intended to leave…

This level of over-explanation could be their attempt to convince you (and perhaps themselves) of their honesty, when really they just forget to set an alarm…

So, if someone’s explanations start to feel like an elaborate novel with so many twists and turns rather than a simple statement, it could well be a sign of dishonesty.

5) Playing the blame game

ways to tell conversation with a liar 8 signs someone is dishonest, according to psychology

Instead of addressing the issue at hand, dishonest individuals will try to shift the focus onto something or someone else. Basically everyone bar themselves.

Think of a toddler caught with their hands in the candy jar. Instead of owning up to their very obvious deed, they’ll play dumb and pretend their sibling stole all the sweets (even caught red handed!)

It’s called “deflection”, and it’s a common tactic used by people who aren’t being honest.

In trying to deflect blame or heat from their own shoulders, they’ll try to create a smokescreen – hoping to distract you from the real issue.

So if you find someone consistently deflecting and blaming the weather/their dog/their grandma instead of answering your questions directly or accepting responsibility,, there’s a good chance they’re not being honest with you.

6) Change in tone of their voice

Ever realize your friend is suddenly speaking like a high pitched and squeaky mouse? Is there voice breaking like a prepubescent teenage boy?

Well, turns out there’s actually a psychological reason behind this. When people lie or are being dishonest, it can cause a certain level of stress and anxiety. This can lead to changes in their voice – both high, low, squeaky and fractured.

So, pay attention to their tone of voice. 

It helps if you know how confidently this person usually speaks, as you’ll be able to tell if it suddenly changes during a conversation and might indicate lying.

7) No eye contact

When someone is being truthful, they’ll generally maintain a comfortable level of eye contact. Not staring into your soul but not avoiding your gaze, either. This shows they have nothing to hide.

However, when people are being dishonest, they tend to avoid eye contact

As if they’re trying to hide something

Even my dog will do anything but look me in the eyes after being caught ripping up the trash, or eating out of the litter tray.

So if you find someone (or something!) avoiding eye contact more than usual during a conversation, it could be a sign of dishonesty at play.

8) Becoming overly defensive

The final sign to watch out for is if someone becomes overly defensive when questioned.

It’s very natural to defend ourselves when we feel attacked, but when someone is not telling the truth, this defense can become excessive and aggressive. They start overcompensating, even in this defense of themselves.

Say you bright up a sensitive issue (and a potential lie) to a colleague who has been slacking. If they jump at defending themselves and telling you excuses before even being questioned….red flag!

So if someone reacts aggressively or excessively defensive to simple questions or doubts, it’s a pretty strong sign they might not be honest with you.

Catching a liar

Recognizing dishonesty can be a challenging and often uncomfortable journey.

But remember, this knowledge isn’t meant to make you paranoid or suspicious of everyone around you. 

Rather, it’s about equipping you with the tools to navigate relationships and interactions more effectively and authentically, so you can protect yourself against lies and manipulation.

Don’t rush to label someone as dishonest based on one or two signs. We all have off days and moments where we might not be our most authentic selves.

However, if you consistently notice these signs, it might be time to have an open conversation or reevaluate the relationship as trying to maintain one with someone dishonest can do a whole lot of damage.

Liv Walde

Liv Walde

London-based writer with big thoughts, big dreams, and a passion for helping others.

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