No one knows exactly how we coped before email. It must have been terrible! One of many benefits to email is the ability to take time considering a response—while delivering that message quickly. It’s the perfect balance between face-to-face and the post office.

The problem with email is the removal of the person from his or her message. You’re given no body language, no facial expressions, no eye movements and no general feeling from the other person. This leaves things wide open for falsehood.

Look for these warning signs to help you determine whether you’re being lied to:

1. Switching Tenses

Be wary if the author changes a suspicious story from past-tense to present-tense. It’s an indication that he’s making things up as he goes. We tend to miss details like that when we’re thinking on the fly. “We thought we’d be home by curfew. We were ready leave by 10:00, then I go to pay the bill, and the credit card machine isn’t working….”

2. Limiting Phrases

Pay attention to limiting, or qualifying statements like “To be honest,” “I’m sorry to say” or “Here’s the thing.”  These narrow the expectations of whatever comes next; maybe the author is stalling or hesitating.

“I want you to know, Rick seems like a good guy. You two are great together.”

3. Too Much Emphasis

Sometimes liars over-sell their stories by trying too hard. Way, way too hard. Look out for adverbs or other emphatic language that seems unnecessary. Repetition is similar. If someone tells you the same thing several times, she may be trying pass off quantity for quality.

“I was really, really sorry to hear about Cuddles. It’s such a shame! He was such a very well-behaved dog. I was never ever scared of him.”

4. Evasive Language

If it sounds too slippery to be true, it might be a lie. Imprecise or vague language leaves room for error, and places the blame for misunderstanding on the reader, not the author. Pay attention to words like “maybe,” “possibly,” “pretty much,” etc. “I’m pretty sure they’ll be finished with the artillery barrage by 0600 hours and we’ll be safe to invade the compound. That’s basically what the gunners told me.”

5. Creating Distance

If your questions go unanswered, or there are obvious omissions in the message, it could be a warning that the author is distancing himself from what you’re asking or talking about. Some liars even leave themselves out of a story they’re telling about themselves. Passive language and tone might be suspicious. You: “Are you excited about the shower on Sunday?” Liar: “It sounds like so much fun! So many interesting people will be there.”

6. Too Many Words

Liars tend to write 30% more than other people in email. Some of this is the need to flesh out convincing stories and answers to inconvenient questions. Part of it is a nervous response that kicks in automatically. If you receive an email that is longer than it needs to be, you may want to take it with a grain of salt.

“I had the report finished on time, but then everything went wrong. My flash drive broke, and then I had to reformat my computer. Computers are the worst! I was ready to email it to you but my internet failed. We just changed our service and it’s hit or miss sometimes.”

Are You Paranoid or Careful?

Research shows that we naturally want to trust people, and usually assume the emails we read are true. But there are times when hoping for the best isn’t good enough. You can’t afford to date a sociopath. Your business needs to know the truth about vendors, employees and clients. You want the truth from the babysitter.

In most cases, none of the 6 warning signs by themselves is enough to merit a confrontation. Watch for several of them popping up in the same email, or look back through past messages for a pattern of possible lies.

Remember: being lied to repeatedly could mean someone doesn’t respect you enough to tell you the truth, or think you’re smart enough to see what’s going on.

Featured photo credit: Cairo via flickr.com

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