Without innocuous white lies, the social interaction would be a cross too hard to bear. We also have a tendency to exaggerate the truth to impress the listeners. Most likely the vacation your friend was telling you about was not as rosy as they would like you to believe. Debunking those little lies is not the purpose of this article.
As babies, then as children we were brought up with the notion that lying is bad. When we lie, our body is placed under unnatural stress. The body will always try to relieve this stress through the body language. Some of us are nervous by nature, but even skittish people will reveal a different kind of nervousness when telling a lie. We are looking for tells, for body movements in clusters (2 or more tells) as a response to our question. We will ask the same question in different ways and once again look for tells.
Ask important questions face to face when you can observe the other person. Here are few tells to look out for:
- Pause in reply when the answer should be obvious. If I asked you if you robbed a bank two years ago, your reply will be instantaneous- “Of course not!” It’s not an ordinary event, you will remember robbing a bank. But if I asked you what you wore on this day two years ago you will pause to think. Even then, most likely you will not remember.
- Verbal/nonverbal disconnect. Our bodies are wired to match the verbal and nonverbal responses. If you detect the mismatch most likely you are hearing a lie. For example, saying how sad you are and smile at the same time.
- Hand to the mouth or eyes. The natural tendency to be truthful will propel a person to cover the eye as if trying not to see the lie, or block the mouth from uttering the untruth. If in reply to your question you see the person lifting their hand to mouth or eyes it is a tell they maybe lying. Again the tells must be in cluster of at least 2 to be significant.
- Throat clearing, visible swallowing. If a person clears his/her throat or visibly swallows prior to answering the question this is a tell. The reaction must be physical – extreme nervousness and produced dry mouth.
- Hands to face/head activity. If a person in response to your question lifts the hand to face, ears, hair, head -it is a tell. If a person licks or bites his/her lips -it is a tell. If you ask a question that produces anxiety, the autonomous nervous system goes to work by draining blood from the head region and hands producing uncomfortable itching, or sensation of being cold. Rubbing hands as if trying to warm up is a tell.
- Grooming activity. Another way that people dissipate anxiety is through grooming. The man may straighten his tie, or adjust his glasses. The woman may rearrange her skirt, or adjust her hair. If you ask an important question and the person reaches to rearrange the glass of water, pencil, or the cell phone- it is a tell.