It’s a fact of life, and often a harmless one. Whether it’s pulling out of a dinner date, or pretending your flatmate was the one who left the cereal bowl in the sink; most of us tell at least one white lie in a day.
But do you think you could pick it?
The Harvard Business Review has revealed a study in ‘How To Spot A Liar’, outlining several handy tips in figuring out whether someone is lying to you or not.
These are handy skills to have: many of us fail to spot the telltale indicators that someone lying. After all, most of us can’t lie to save ourselves. I immediately flush a deep shade of beetroot, start sweating, steam comes out my ears, and I explode.
Some people, however, are born liars. Smooth operators. Cool, calm, and collected. They can whip up an elaborate story on the spot, and therefore grow up to become spies, or ATO agents or politicians.
Regardless, it’s a basic life skill to spot a liar. It will be immensely helpful should you ever find yourself in a management role, jury duty, or a witchhunt.
But first, you need to know the signs that someone is lying…and here they are.
Talking quickly, and a lot.
“Bald-faced liars tended to use many more words during the ultimatum game than did truth tellers, presumably in an attempt to win over suspicious receivers. Van Swol dubbed this “the Pinocchio effect.” “Just like Pinocchio’s nose, the number of words grew along with the lie,” she says.”
“On average, liars used more swear words than did truth tellers—especially in cases where the recipients voiced suspicion about the true amount of the endowment. “We think this may be due to the fact that it takes a lot of cognitive energy to lie,” Van Swol says. “Using so much of your brain to lie may make it hard to monitor yourself in other areas.” ”
Speaking in the third person.
“Liars used far more third-person pronouns than truth tellers or omitters. “This is a way of distancing themselves from and avoiding ownership of the lie,” Van Swol explains.”
“Liars spoke in more complex sentences than either omitters or truth tellers.”
Hmm. Pretty obvious signs, wouldn't you say? But for most of us, the elusive liar flies straight under our radar.
According to one study, just 50 out of 20,000 people managed to make a correct judgement that someone was lying to them.
Given the propensity for liars to successfully sidestep our attention, the next best way to sift them out is through a gentle interrogation (no good cop, bad cop, ok guys?).
According to the BBC:
'The aim is a casual conversation rather than an intense interrogation. Under this gentle pressure, however, the liar will give themselves away by contradicting their own story, or by becoming obviously evasive or erratic in their responses."
Their tips revolve around finding the small, 'unimportant' lies - the small snags in their story that will see the liar come undone.
First, use open questions. This forces the liar to expand on their tale until they become entrapped in their own web of deceit.
Secondly, employ the element of surprise. By adding on questions that might confuse the person, or asking them to recite the events in reverse, will throw their well-rehearesed tale into a spin.
The biggest lie I've ever told my partner. (Post continues after video)
Thirdly, keep pressing for the small details. BBC gives the following example:
"If a passenger says they are at the University of Oxford, ask them to tell you about their journey to work. If you do find a contradiction, though, don’t give yourself away – it’s better to allow the liar’s confidence to build as they rattle off more falsehoods, rather than correcting them."
And finally, be sensitive to shifts in confidence. Most liars will bristle with false horror if accused of lying; but if they will trip themselves up given half the chance. Watch and see if they clam up once they sense they're losing control.
So there you go, a few insights into your next playful interrogation with a friend, your family, employee, or potential witch.
And if all else fails, just keep your eye out for steam starting to appear from their ears: it's a sure sign.