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How to Detect a Liar in Seconds Using Nonverbal Communication


May 3, 2023

Telling lies in professional settings leads to a myriad of troubles in the workplace. For an effective work environment, teams need to trust each other and build relationships built on honesty and the common goal of achieving the best results on the job. However, there will always be colleagues, clients, potential hires and executives who do not tell the truth.

It would be great to have a magic wand that could tell you who is lying and who isn't, but that isn't an option. Luckily, there are other ways to understand if someone is less than honest with you and your company. The following signs do not even require words and are all nonverbalqueues.

"When people try to conceal how they're feeling, the expression is reduced in time from a few seconds to a fraction of a second--one-tenth of a second--so brief you can miss it if you blink," says psychologist and author Paul Ekman. "Most people don't recognize the emotions shown in these micro-expressions. But people can learn to see them. Learning to read facial expressions gives you an edge in business because it allows you to communicate more effectively with business partners."

Another form of nonverbal communication is body language. This involves the ways you move your body, including unconscious movements. It is not uncommon for our bodies to communicate something our words are not.

For example, arms crossed in front of the chest are usually a sign of defensiveness. Crossing legs may indicate that someone is needing privacy or is closed off. Sitting back too far shows disinterest, while leaning forward shows interest.

Detecting liars

Do you ever feel like someone is not being honest with you? Maybe you can't explain it in words, but you have a gut feeling that something isn't quite right. Chances are, you are correct. Most likely, you are subconsciously aware of changes in the person's nonverbal communication.

David Matsumoto is an expert in microexpressions, gestures, nonverbal behavior, culture and emotion. He explains that to get good at detecting lies, you need to observe people.

Matsumoto teaches that when your body language and nonverbal communication are congruent, the words you speak have a much higher value. Conversely, when your nonverbal communication is not congruent with your words, people tend to disregard spoken words and focus on body language.

Research also shows that when people lie, they experience negative emotions because they know they are lying. They will automatically feel some contempt, whether it is towards themselves or for the situation that is forcing them to lie.

People also lie to protect themselves or someone else from being punished. In some cases, they lie to avoid an embarrassing or uncomfortable situation or boost self-worth in the eyes of others.

All of these reasons to lie have a clear reason and purpose. They all are also emotionally driven. Human emotions are impossible to hide completely and will be displayed nonverbally in some form (unless you are dealing with a psychopath or sociopath).

When you think someone is being dishonest, try observing them for emotional incongruencies. Discomfort can manifest in many ways, including anger, contempt, disgust, fear and sadness. Stress can also indicate lying, and the emotion releases adrenaline. Adrenaline provides more energy to the limbs, which may result in fidgeting.

It is also useful to look for out-of-the-ordinary gestures. Often these will come in "clusters," meaning two or more nonverbal gestures that signify distress. They could be as simple as a facial tick, a shoulder raise or a brow wrinkle. Once you learn how to identify discomfort better, it's much easier to glimpse someone's inner world.

Keep in mind that there is no foolproof or universal signal demonstrating dishonesty. There are a few nonverbal signs that when in a cluster, could mean that the truth is not being upheld. These signs may include:

  1. Excessive blinking

  2. Eyes darting around

  3. Irregular eye contact

  4. Fidgeting

  5. Excessive body touching

  6. Quick head movements

  7. Nodding yes while saying no or vice versa

  8. Face flushing

  9. Sweating

  10. Wringing the fingers

Remember, these are all possible signs of deceit, not confirmations of deceit. Lie detection is complex and is not as simple as observing someone touch their nose. It takes precise practice and training. Still, by using your own critical thinking skills, observation, experience, and background knowledge of a person and situation, you can have many of the tools necessary to make a clear assessment of the truth.

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