There are two types of signs that occur when a person is lying. There are the blatantly obvious or conscious signs, and there are the hidden, unconscious signs that are far more subtle. Whether the sign is obvious or not, the best way to recognize a liar is to use your mental skills.
Mental skills are derived from the conscious, the subconscious and the unconscious mind. If you don’t have strongly developed mental skills, sometimes the signs that someone is lying fly right over your head. The good news is that they’re easy to develop and they seldom fail as long as you’re really tuned into them.
Research by Dr. Leanne ten Brinke, a forensic psychologist at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, supports the fact that our instincts for detecting liars can be fairly strong. However, the racing thoughts of our conscious minds sometimes cloud these instincts.
“A man when moderately angry, or even when enraged, may command the movements of his body, but … those muscles of the face which are least obedient to the will, will sometimes alone betray a slight and passing emotion.” — Charles Darwin
It’s safe to assume that what Charles Darwin was referring to are subtle, unconscious signs. The best way to begin recognizing these types of signs is through mental skills. If you’re not sure whether or not you use your mental skills, this may help clear it up. Think about a decision or task you’ve made in the past. Was there a time that you weren’t sure you were making the right one? Were you second guessing yourself? This is because your conscious decision, or action wasn’t in correlation with your unconscious, or subconscious thoughts — your ‘gut instincts.’ You only used your conscious thoughts to make the decision. In order to best recognize a liar, you have to listen to your unconscious thoughts as well. A great guide to knowing whether you’ve used your mental skills is when your head and your heart are balanced after making a decision.
With every sign the experts have out there for detecting lies, there are always exceptions. The best ways to recognize a liar are by watching their unconscious body language and honing your mental skills. As you observe body language, facial expressions and voice intonations, also pay attention to what your mind is saying. Listen carefully. There are your conscious thoughts: these are the loudest and the most immediate that come up. Everyone is aware of their conscious thoughts. But listen to your subconscious as well. What is it saying? These are the thoughts that crop up, sometimes only for a millisecond. It’s that flash you get that suggests a person is lying, or that something isn’t right, or that they’re leaving part of the story out.
Use the following clues, and combine them with your mental skills to better enable yourself to recognize a liar.
1. Eye contact: Either none or way too much.
The most obvious sign is when there is little to no eye contact. But you also have to look for forced, or purposeful staring, with infrequent blinking. Professional liars use deliberate, unbroken eye contact as a subtle intimidation tactic. They’re also going to feed off of the verbal and nonverbal cues from you.
The truth teller is likely going to fall in between the extremes. Use your mental skills as a radar. Pay attention to not only your conscious thoughts, but your subconscious ones as well. This is where your expertise in detecting deception resides.
2. Sudden head movements.
Dr. Lillian Glass, in her book The Body Language of Liars, discusses head movements. When you ask a question and the person’s head jerks back, or glances away and then back at you suddenly, tilts to one side or looks down before answering, Glass suggests these are unconscious signs of deception. The mouth can lie. The body, however, cannot.
3. Fidgety versus very still.
Our nervous system has a natural defense mechanism sometimes referred to as ‘the fight or flight system.’ Lying promotes stress and anxiety, so naturally, the fight or flight reaction will take place. Liars use both. Some examples of using the ‘fight’ mechanism are when they become highly offended at your questions, intentionally stare you down, or, if standing, freeze themselves in a very stiff, intimidating stance.
Some examples of a liar whose ‘flight’ mechanism has kicked in are when they’re restless and can’t be still, they’re touching their face, mouth, ears, head and other body parts, when they continually say they have to go, and when their feet continuously shift, even while sitting.
4. Nervous Nellie.
It’s natural for anyone who is being questioned to be a little nervous. A ‘Nervous Nellie,’ however, cannot be still. This is the person who will turn their body away from whomever they’re speaking with, have their arms crossed, or unconsciously blink more than they usually do. They either don’t smile at all or display half smiles that aren’t their usual smile. Another unconscious action is when they touch their face, rub their eyes, itch or fiddle with random objects just as a question is asked. These objects may include keys, a pen, earrings, etc.
5. Stalling tactics.
The obvious stalling tactic is when the liar changes the subject, usually with a compliment or a question. The less obvious is responding to a question by saying, “Where did you hear that?” This gives the liar a few extra seconds to fabricate his or her answer.
They can also get very squeamish during extended periods of silence.
6. Offense versus defense.
The obvious liar embellishes on explicit details regarding unimportant information. The not-so-obvious liar makes statements such as, “I did not …” instead of using the contraction didn’t. They may also make statements such as, “Well he did/said this, so I … but I did not …” Anything done or said to deflect blame or attention off of them, or any anger are always red flags. A truth teller will assume more of an offensive position. This means they’ll be cooperative and do everything they can to provide the information in a natural, relaxed disposition that isn’t aggressive, or leaning toward defensive.
7. A story that changes.
Liars tend to either forget what they said or the order of events when they’re making the story up. Therefore, if you ask similar questions that mean the same thing and get conflicting sequences, this is a strong sign of deception.
Even lie detector machines aren’t considered 100% accurate. This is probably why they don’t hold up in any court of law. In a study that was performed in 2004, the results indicated that a liar is detected a mere 53% of the time. Experts on lie detection continue to explore technology that increases this percentage. Chances are, they will succeed. However, until then, the fastest, and most reliable way to recognize a liar is by combining the use of your mental skills with the aforementioned signs. This article by The New York Times is an excellent way to practice detecting the liar. So put your God-given mental skills to good use and become much more able to recognize a liar!
Click here for more information on detecting a liar.
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