Navigating the cut and thrust, social roundabout of life can be challenging. We meet and deal with, sometimes, hundreds of people a day; some of these folk we might have to rely upon – whether emotionally or in terms of a business or professional relationship.
Whatever the relationship, we need to make snap judgements about whether or not we can trust this person. And that’s not an easy job.
The human brain has evolved over millions and millions of years to be absolutely amazing at reading faces and emotions, but it is by no means perfect. To make things trickier still, our faces have evolved over the same time scale to confuse and trick us.
So we’ve got good at reading faces and, at the same time, we’ve got good at hiding lies.
It’s a tough nut to crack. It’s not nice to walk around doubting everyone and assuming they’re lying. That’s no way to live. But on the other hand, we can’t simply trust everyone and allow them to walk over us. It’s good to be on our guard, but without being paranoid and unlikable along the way. It’s a difficult line to walk.
What follows are a few basic tips; they offer a few hints that someone might be lying. None of the tips below are 100% fool proof, but they might help throw you a couple of clues every once in a while.
Don’t get hung up if you see just one of these behaviours. But, if you see a bunch in a short space of time: alarm bells.
The Tell-Tale Pause
If you ask a question, and there is a longer than expected pause, this might be a sign someone is lying. Let’s be sensible here though, if you ask “what did you do on the 3rd July, 2006” you can expect a pause, as that’s a tough question.
However, if the question is simple and should be easy to answer but there is still a long delay, be suspicious.
Like I said in the introduction, though – you can’t guarantee that these methods will work on everyone, so don’t argue with a friend because he paused when you asked him if he likes you. But it can be a useful clue, especially with people you know less well.
In normal conversation, our brain lines up our body language with what we are saying. But, if we are lying and our brain knows it, the physical and verbal aspects can become disconnected and out of sync.
The most simple version of this is if someone nods as they say “no” and shakes their head as they say “yes.”
If this happens when they are answering a simple yes/no question, this doesn’t really count as a verbal/non-verbal disconnect. But, if they are answering a question with a narrative – a story – and you notice that their body language is not reflecting the content of the tale they are telling, this could be a sign of porkie pies.
Concealing The Mouth And Eyes
If, as someone speaks to you, they cover their mouth and eyes regularly, this could be a sign of untruths. Similarly, if they close their eyes as they respond (especially if the question does not require a great deal of thought) this amounts to the same thing – hiding your eyes.
Covering the mouth and eyes as we lie seems to be, at least partly, because the human brain is uncomfortable that it is lying to someone. So, in a vague attempt to cover it up, it hides the descriptive parts of the face – the eyes and mouth.
Frog In The Throat?
If someone answers a question and clears their throat afterwards, that’s nothing to worry about. However, if someone clears their throat just before answering a question, it is worth taking note.
There are two reasons why clearing the throat before answering might signal a half truth. Firstly, it can be the non-verbal equivalent of saying “I swear to god,” in other words, dressing the lie up in its Sunday best before presenting it to you.
Secondly, a cough before answering could be a sign of a spike in anxiety, prior to lying.
If someone is speaking to you and they’re constantly playing with their ears or lips, be wary.
Once again, why this occurs seems to be down to physiology kicking against our lying selves. When we lie, we increase our anxiety levels. This, in turn, triggers the autonomic nervous system which attempts to dissipate the tension.
As it removes the tension, it partially drains blood from the extremities, which makes the face colder or itchier. This then makes us more likely to fiddle with our faces.
If someone is sweating while you speak to them, this shouldn’t necessarily set off alarm bells; people sweat for a number of reasons – being hot is one, of course, but blood pressure or illness are others.
How they respond to the sweat is a different matter. If they take out a hanky and start mopping up the beads of sweat, this is a type of “grooming.” Similarly, if someone starts rearranging things on the table in front of them – moving their drink of water, rearranging their pens, adjusting their tie, putting their hair behind their ear – these are all signs that they are potentially covering something up.
To conclude, no single one of these behaviours is enough to prove someone is lying to you. Even if you spot two of these activities at once, it’s not failsafe evidence of wrongdoing.
However, if you already think someone might be pulling a fast one, and you see a number of these behaviours appearing at once, or in quick succession, you would do well to act warily around that person – at least until you have gathered more evidence.