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Six Ways to Tell Someone is Lying

Do you know the feeling you get when you believe someone is trying to deceive you? Do you second guess your gut reaction? There are ways to determine when someone is lying to you and these red flags will help you know when your intuition is right on.

People lie so regularly in the course of their daily lives that we routinely dismiss the indications we see that tell us we’ve being deceived. Much of the time the truths people hide are of little consequence to us, but some lies can impact us in the long term and in devastating ways.

Unfortunately, when we want to believe someone is telling the truth, we do. We’ve all dismissed our own gut and ignored our better judgement only to discover later that we’ve been lied to. Learn how to protect yourself by identifying the signs that someone is lying to you.

“Shifty Eyes” Aren’t A Sure Sign

First let’s dispel the myth that people who are lying have ‘shifty’ eyes and can’t hold eye contact. The opposite is often true. Studies show that people who are lying, especially accomplished liars, make and hold eye contact more – not less – when they are weaving a tale. People tend to look away when they are trying to remember, but a liar will hold your attention deliberately in their attempt to seem sincere.

Restricted or Exaggerated Gestures

Hands being held close to the body while gesturing such as tightly crossed arms, bunched up hands, or arms aimed away from the listener indicate dishonesty. We pull away from threats, and the desire to protect lies can make someone unconsciously withdraw. Additional indications embellishing a story with unnatural movements or hand gestures. Hidden hands, such as hands in pockets, are another way the body tells us that the speaker is hiding something.

Face Touching

Self-soothing including nose scratching, ear tugging, neck touching, collar pulling and mouth covering—increase in frequency with stress and deception. The stress causes blood flow to increase in the face and neck stimulating nerves which cause discomfort. The speaker will unconsciously touch the overheated areas repeatedly.

Legs and Feet

Our legs are harder to consciously control than other areas of the body. Locked ankles, when seated or reclined, are a sign of discomfort and anxiety. A leg that jiggles tells us nerves are on end. Your feet are quick to show others when you want to be out of a situation. If during a conversation the person shifts and the feet point to the door they may be saying “Get me out of here!”


These are sudden brief emotional leaks such a quick smile while talking about a crime or an irritated expression when someone is saying they are fine with something. Micro-expressions occur for only 1/15th to 1/25th of a second – so fast we tend to register them unconsciously and hesitate to believe the speaker. Micro-expressions cannot be hidden.


When gestures and facial expressions match the content of the message, we have congruence. When someone tells us they’re happy while their head shakes ‘no,’ believe the gesture, not the words.

When you watch politicians you can easily spot these gestural reveals. I recently saw a politician saying “I want to lift them up” while the hands were palm down making a pressing motion. Again, believe the gesture, not the words.

Think of a young child saying “No, I didn’t take the cookie” with hands in pockets and slumped shoulders. That’s incongruence. A truthful child would have open palms and open body language.

When you observe incongruence, don’t make up a story in your mind that dismisses or explains what you see. Believe your observation. Wherever there’s incongruence, there’s deception.

A few examples of deceptive behavior

  • A cheating spouse who, while denying the accusation, pulls on their collar, scratches their neck and touches their nose.

  • A politician talking about his openness to change while his arms are locked on the podium.

  • And of course, anybody watching Donald Trump shake hands knows this move is all about power and domination, and has nothing to do with social convention.

A good place to start identifying lies is by watching the news. Politicians and news reporters provide a banquet of body language tells that deliver clear messages about the lies we are sold. You can also observe conversations in restaurants, airports, and at parties. You’ll discover that hidden in plain sight there are clear, deceptive clues that others think are hidden.

Understanding these tools won’t make you an instant expert on human behavior, but it is important to pay attention, develop your skill, and listen to your gut in your everyday interactions. Ask clear questions when what you notice signs pointing toward deception. And, just for good measure, start practicing a little more honesty in your own life. It can only make things easier.


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