How to spot a liar

As a Body Language Expert, it’s probably the question I’m asked most frequently.

Before I identify the key body language signs for you (we refer to this as ‘leakage’), I need to explain a couple of things.  

Firstly, words are about information; body language (and the intonation of the spoken words) is essentially about emotion. If you want to identify a person’s emotion, then you need to study their body language. But lying is not an emotion as such, and therefore when you’re trying to detect a liar, you might be identifying the emotions of someone who’s feeling uncomfortable because their honesty is being questioned (or for some other reason) rather than the emotions of someone who is lying.

Secondly, Body Language is not an exact science, although there are plenty of Body Language Consultants who would like to convince you that it is. Beware of so-called Body Language Experts who tell you that they can be absolutely sure if someone is lying!

So here are the main signs I suggest you look for.

Touch is very comforting. We tend to self-touch when we feel uncomfortable, and lying for most people is uncomfortable. Touch around the face and ears - especially around the lips and mouth - could be a sign of dishonesty. Not only might someone be seeking a little comfort by touching their mouth, they might also try to cover their mouth.  We tend to do this when we don’t want our own words to incriminate us.

Having said that, liars also tend to hide their hands. Yes, I know, it’s complicated! One minute they’re touching their lips and the next they’re hiding their hands!

Breaking eye-contact when we’re speaking is very natural, but when speakers consistently break eye-contact up to their right it’s often a sign that they’re using their imagination (and not their memory).

It’s the norm in most parts of the Western world for the listener to engage in eye-contact with the speaker all the time. It comes naturally to most of us. But if someone is engaged in a conversation where they are lying, they might tend to look away rather than sustain eye-contact at the moments when they’re listening. And here’s the complicated bit: to counteract that, their eye-contact might be unnaturally strong. If this is the case, watch out for a lack of blinking! That’s often a tell-tale sign that someone is forcing themselves to engage in eye-contact.

There’s a little area just above the nose and between the eyebrows which I refer to as ‘the pinch’. Pretend to be genuinely puzzled by something and you’ll feel the little area I’m referring to tighten up. There are often two vertical lines there. Have a look at yourself in the mirror. Now pretend to be genuinely shocked by something.  It’s probably happening again!  Now try being genuinely sad. It might be happening again. So the key thing here is not ‘puzzled’ or ‘shocked’ or ‘sad’; it’s ‘genuinely’. When the emotion we feel is genuine, the pinch often appears. So it’s a good way of identifying if someone whose emotions are genuine or not.

As a Body Language Consultant, it’s natural for me spend time observing other people’s body language. But I tend to focus more on a person’s breathing. It’s natural to hold our breath when we’re feeling uncomfortable or stressed. Watch out for this in a liar as well. Sudden moments of held breath suggest stress and real discomfort. Maybe you’ve just hit on something which has really cornered them.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll be back with more soon.