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Secrets & Lies - The Body Language of Dishonesty

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Secrets & Lies - The Body Language of Dishonesty

06/10/2009

The Definitive Guide to Recognising Dishonesty

Let me show you how to tell if someone’s lying and cheating

The infuriating stories of cheating MPs fiddling expenses have brought the issue of dishonesty to everyone's lips. You might wonder if you could've "told" if you're MP was lying. The answer is Yes. There are many behavioural signs giving important information about our honesty – or dishonesty. To paraphrase Sigmund Freud, "No mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips. Betrayal oozes out of every pore."

It's knowing what to look for, and arming yourself with knowledge, that means you’ll be able to spot a liar. And at the very least you'll be able to spot when questions make them feel nervous. Take Linda, 48, who felt she was going mad when husband Peter, 49, repeatedly denied having an affair. There were so many signs she was convinced he was lying but she couldn't get past his alibis. Eventually Linda found she’d been correctly reading those signs and he was cheating on her.

Follow this guide to help you decide if someone’s trying to pull the wool over your eyes. There are three core areas to familiarise yourself with. Remember you can’t take one signal as definitive proof of lying. However if someone shows a few signs, plus your intuition tells you something isn't "right", you've got good grounds to question their honesty.

1/ Vocal tone:

You can get a few key signs from the sound of someone's voice about whether they’re being dishonest with you. Listen out for these:

*They try and keep their vocal tone very stable so it ends up coming out as nearly a monotone. This signals that they don't want to give away nervousness.

*Listen to see if the pitch of their voice rises higher than usual as they answer. This signals that their vocal chords are constricting under pressure. And they've got "lost" in telling their lie and have forgotten to keep their vocal tone stable.

*See if they give off a tell-tale sign of anxiety by making a small noise almost like a "choking" or a "catching" sound in their voice while speaking. Read this as a signal that they’re literally choking on their words as they’re uncomfortable saying them.

* If they start using an angry tone, plus they've been evasive, you can bet they're getting fed up being caught out on dangerous ground.

2/ Vocal content:

Some further key signs about someone's honesty, or lack of it, comes from the content of what they say. See if you pick up the following:

*A classic signal of lying is someone that starts telling you a story that’s overloaded with detail. Particularly take note if they give you far more detail in their explanation then they’d usually do.

*Listen for contradictions. As someone who's lying keeps spinning a tale for you, you're likely to hear a contradiction. Try and make a mental note of the "facts" they tell you to make sure they tally by the end of their story/explanation.

* A skilled liar will do the opposite, giving you the least possible detail in an explanation so that they can't be caught out like this. Be aware of such "abbreviated" answers.

* Note if they pause before they start an answer as they try to get their "story" together in their own mind.

*Also note if they answer your questions with a question to deflect attention away from them.

3/ Body language:

Between facial expressions and actual body language you can find loads of signals of dishonesty. Here are crucial ones:

*A liar doesn't want to appear evasive so take note if they latch onto your eye contact longer than’s natural.

*An inexperienced liar avoids eye contact so also watch for their eyes constantly flicking away. Researchers dispute whether a flick to the left or the right is a true giveaway of lying.

*Beware a lying lover doesn't give you the "puppy dog eyes" look that says, "Come on, you can't doubt little old me!"

* Notice whether they cover their mouths with their hand as they speak in a defensive gesture.

*Watch for defensive body language like them crossing their arms behind their neck and leaning away from you. This signals they literally want to back away as they feel threatened.

*Note if they cross their arms across their chest defensively as they start to answer your question.

*A practised liar may not squirm in their chair but watch for other signs of anxiety like tell-tale foot “shaking”, finger-tapping, or hand-wringing as they answer your questions.

Finally, all of us tell little fibs to smooth life’s path. You tell a friend she looks "great" in something when you know it’ll crush her confidence if you say it doesn't actually suit her. You tell your partner they've "moved the earth" in bed when maybe they've only given it a little quake. And so on. Such fibs are very different to the sort of lies and dishonesty you can now look out for.

Published in The Express Newspaper