Someone tells you something … And you are given the daunting task of figuring out if they are telling the truth or not. Do you listen to them? Are they right? Are they wrong? Do they believe they are being honest, or are they lying?
The ability to detect deception is universally important, and although we spend years honing our abilities (unless you were home-schooled) most of us are still horribly inept. I’m here to help you out.
Our parents, our teachers — everyone who influences us throughout our lives tells us it is important to be honest, to be truthful. We’re taught that if we can just tell the truth then we’ll be so much better off!
Well, sorry mom — you, just like me, are a liar. We all are.
Instead of telling kids that people shouldn’t lie, and that liars are bad people, it would be much more effective to instead explain to children that, the reality is, people lie for a whole multitude of reasons, from avoiding jailtime to making someone feel better — and that learning to detect lies can be very helpful as they make their way through life.
Since most of us didn’t receive that kind of wisdom early on, I’m here to guide you through this harsh life where liars are “bad” and you only detect about 50 percent of the lies they throw at you on a daily basis.
We lie constantly. Prove it to yourself by consciously monitoring how many times you aren’t completely honest with people for the rest of the day.
Studies show that strangers lie to each other three times within the first 10 minutes of meeting. Married couples lie once in every 10 interactions (though, personally, I think that’s a little generous). It’s obvious that the ability to recognize a lie would be extremely beneficial, from knowing when someone is conning you to perceiving how people really feel about each other.
Good lie-spotting relies on the idea that lying is hard — it requires keeping your story straight and making sure you don’t give anything away nonverbally. You have to react quickly to questions, constantly rearranging your story, as well as keep track of all your separate lies.
There are three main things to focus on with deception detection: choice of words, body language and the intricacies of the human face. Keep in mind that information on each of these sections could fill whole libraries, but I’ll provide you with a basic skeleton of knowledge on how to distinguish a lie from a truth.
Today we’ll focus on the words people use when they lie, and next week we’ll discuss what people give away with their body language and their faces. Here are five things to look out for within speech:
1. When you ask a question like, “Did you eat my ice cream?” only someone who’s trying to find a way out of the situation will respond back with, “Did I eat your ice cream?”
2. When someone is telling a true story, they’ll jump backward and forward in time, forgetting things and then introducing them, doing what they can to give the listener an accurate description of what happened. But because liars are telling a false story, they relay it in a severely chronological order. This way, it’s easier for them to keep the detailsstraight in their head and avoid screwing up.
3. An alarm should go off in your head if you hear the phrase “to be honest,” “to tell you the truth,” “honestly” or “I swear.” Liars say these things to convince both the listener and themselves of their honesty.
4. Liars often use euphemisms like “take” instead of “steal” when describing their actions. They are just doing what they can to make the implications of their deed seem more innocent in a perfect example of self-preservation.
5. Liars don’t typically use contractions. (See what I did there? You can trust me, I swear.) They’ll say, “I did not eat your ice cream,” instead of, “I didn’t.” Avoiding contractions makes the statement sound more powerful, but the extra impact is unnecessary for a truth-teller.
It’s important to realize that none of these signs should convince you of a person’s dishonesty; the field of deception detection is wide, invariably complex and different from person to person.
These five points should merely serve as warning signs that something might be off. It is always best to establish a baseline of a person’s overall actions and look for deviations from that behavior.
I hope you can learn from these simple indicators and arm yourself with better detection skills. Or, if nothing else, you can just become a better liar than the rest.
Daily Nexus columnist Kevin Ferguson forgot the most glaringly obvious sign of a liar: a long-ass nose.