When you’re trying to figure out whether someone is telling the truth, there is more evidence at your disposal than just their words. In particular, developing a good understanding of body language can be a huge asset when assessing honesty. The following tricks can help you in a wide range of settings, from first dates with strangers to encounters with difficult coworkers.
1. Be aware of microexpressions
Microexpressions are fleeting changes in facial expression that appear in response to strong emotions. These changes sometimes betray a person’s real feelings before they have a chance to rearrange their features to give a different impression, so microexpressions can provide extremely useful clues. For example, you might spot a brief look of shock before someone hastily attempts to look like they knew a piece of information all along.
2. Look out for fidgeting
When people feel anxious or afraid of the prospect of being caught in a lie, corresponding nervous behaviors can begin to appear. Fidgeting is particularly common—you might see someone playing with their hair, fiddling with their watch strap or compulsively moving things on the desk between you. Foot shuffling or tapping is another common sign of dishonesty.
Some people exhibit changes in eye movements when they are lying, either blinking slightly more often or fluttering their eyelids. However, since these same changes can be caused by other sources of stress, it’s vital to consider the context before assuming that you’re talking to a dishonest person.
4. Check how the person is sitting
Position can also tell you something about whether a person is sincere. If you’re with someone who is being honest, they are more likely to lean forward and close the gap between you while speaking earnestly. In contrast, liars often unconsciously find themselves leaning backward out of discomfort, perhaps thinking that you’ll be less likely to detect a lie if you are further away.
5. Assess breathing patterns
When someone stops telling the truth, their respiration rate typically increases in response to an increase in hormones associated with stress and anxiety. While you may not hear this change in breathing, you might notice it in the movement of a person’s shoulders or chest. If you’re standing outside in the cold, you might also see the change in the air.
6. Observe eye movements
Using this tip requires knowing whether your interlocutor is right or left handed, but it is surprisingly accurate. Typically, a left-handed person will move their eyes and up and to the right when recounting the true details of an event from memory. However, their eyes will move up and to the left, if they are making up details or inventing their entire tale. The reverse is true of right-handed people, who will generally look up to the left if they are telling the truth.
7. Monitor for contradictions
Try to notice body language that clashes with what someone says or that doesn’t seem to fit with the tone they are using. For example, someone who is upset about something might be clenching their jaw whilst offering hearty congratulations, and a person who is pretending to have seen a particular thing occur might actually be shaking their head while they fabricate their account!
8. Look out for perspiration
Perspiration provides useful data during lie detector tests, as it’s common to start sweating when you’re struggling to stick to the details of a lie. Consequently, if you’re suspicious of someone’s story and they happen to be sweating, your concerns might be justified. However, don’t forget that social anxiety also causes perspiration, so an increase in sweating can be a more informative observation in a confident person.
9. Don’t assume that eye contact indicates honesty
People who are lying often feel that they will seem more credible if they can hold eye contact while being dishonest. However, people who are telling the truth are more likely to have a relaxed approach to eye contact, regularly breaking it and instigating it throughout a conversation.
10. Track sudden movements
Finally, liars may suddenly turn their head to a new angle, leaning back at the neck or sharply turning the head to one side when you ask a question that requires them to be dishonest. Some people even abruptly raise their hand (or hands) to their mouth as they are about to begin lying, though more experienced liars are less likely to make this mistake.