Coexistence 201: Lying

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Coexistence 105: Making Friends

People lie for many reasons, but most of them aren’t legitimate

Cultures teach us how to lie and to expect we’re lied to

  • Everyone wants to convey themselves in the best possible light
  • Modern marketing lies with false perceptions of brand variety or quality
  • Lying is so typical we tend to assume lying in others even when they’re telling the truth

Motivations to lie can vary significantly

Pro-social lies want to promote others’ happiness

  • Pro-social lies are likely the most frequent form of daily deception
  • Most people consider pro-social lies harmless
  • Pro-social lying is part of a complicated social contract that establishes lying and accepting lies as part of everyday life

Self-enhancement lies come from the hope of personal gain

  • Self-enhancement lying goes beyond words to involve many types of behaviors
  • Some more common self-enhancement lies can include owning knock-offs of expensive products, wearing padded bras, clothing selection, and cosmetic surgery

Selfish lies come from fear

  • Selfish lies come from a fear of the truth directly or indirectly implicating someone negatively
  • People use selfish lies for self-protection
  • Selfish lying often comes from social pressures or the risk of losing status or reputation

Antisocial lies are designed to harm others

  • Antisocial lies are the hardest to detect from the liar’s high inherent trust and the listener’s unwillingness to accept a violation of trust
  • Personal bias and friendships usually make antisocial lies worse

Keep a few things in mind when looking for lies

Everyone lies more than you may be comfortable discovering

  • You might find the lies people you trust make extremely unsettling

No specific method can universally detect lies in everyone

  • Most people think they’re excellent at detecting lies, but are usually about 44% accurate
    • You can more accurately tell if someone is lying by flipping a coin
    • Even people in professions that require detecting lies tend to assume far more lying than reality
  • Most popular lie-detecting cues are incorrect but make stories more dramatic
    • Contrary to popular opinion, lie detectors can’t consistently detect liars

A liar is telling a fictional story, which means details won’t come easily to them

  • If someone gave you a fake phone number, read it back wrongly to see if you’re corrected
  • Give back information incorrectly to ascertain if they’re lying

Look for body language and expression changes

  • Dispositions need context to determine as a lie
  • Learn to be a great listener, since liars often self-implicate without meaning to
  • Observe what they intone in their sentences since it can completely redefine an idea
  • Find out their normal baseline behavior without pressure to spot them acting differently

Observe patterns in their speaking and tone

Higher pitched voices that rise or even break

  • Juveniles and women are more likely to be truthful with higher-pitched voices

Speech hesitation

  • Many people “buy time” with hesitancy, but great liars will make fewer errors than truth-tellers

Repeating questions to them

  • Another time-buying technique and a way for them to gauge a reaction

Declaratory statements of their honesty or goodness

  • “I swear to God, I swear on my mother’s grave, I’m a Christian” bolsters the appearance of credibility

Heavy focus on the story

  • Liars create believable lies but have to put significant energy into making a story
  • When suspecting deception in a story, look for the areas the person addresses the least since they are usually trying to hide them

Improper possessive pronouns (I, we, they)

  • It adds credibility and corroboration to a story

Narrative continuity

  • To test if the story was made up, have the liar restate the story forward and backward and in the middle to find any narrative discontinuity

Past-tense versus present-tense and how it ties to emotional connection

A minimization of harsh words (dead, murder, rape, fired, stealing) to avoid responsibility

Vague answers are usually meant to conceal a true opinion

Qualifiers (e.g., but, kind of, like, however) create a verbal technicality they can fall back on

Expanded contractions (e.g., I did not, I was not) instead of proper contractions (didn’t, wasn’t) buy a little more time

Stating a loss of memory with “I don’t recall” or “I don’t know” is an easy out

Garbled or softly spoken words show a desire to obscure the idea

Watch their eyes

Liars tend to look a person in the eye more than honest people

Where the eye looks

  • Contrary to popular culture, where their eyes look doesn’t correlate to lying with one particular exception
  • When asking a pointed question, the person should be able to answer quickly but will instead look away and act like they’re trying to recall something

Liars sometimes show dilated pupils and widened eyes as part of a fear reaction

Blink rate and eye closure

  • Liars tend to blink up to 20 times more than normal
  • Liars tend to close their eyes longer than truth-tellers

Watch for facial expressions

The lower half of the face changes smoothly, but the upper half of the face usually shows a person’s true feelings

People express a split-second micro-expression of their true feelings of something new to them

  • When greeting a friend, raise your eyebrows as soon as you see them, they will only raise their eyebrows back if they see you as their friend

Genuine expressions on the face are typically symmetrical

The timing of emotional displays and emotional fluidity

  • Facial expressions of true emotions always come before body expressions, so a liar will usually appear upset a half-second after they visually react

Increased blood pressure from stress can sometimes show through facial reddening and blushing

  • Sometimes veins can stand out more or even visibly throb in the temples or throat

Though there is nothing specific to look for with the head tilting, watch for rigid body movements

Look at their body language

Shrugging usually expresses uncertainty or indifference, meaning that it should consistently match their verbal statement

  • Watch for “micro-shrugging”, split-second shrugs that betray hidden thoughts


Open or closed arms are only a cue when they change for a specific reason

Liars tend to gesture less with their overall hand and arm movement

Liars will often adjust their clothing or hair significantly more or less


Hands often twitch slightly to show stress and unease

Steepling or “tenting” the fingers show a present feeling of power

Spidering the fingertips (hands on a flat surface but not flat) show an impatient desire to say something or leave

Clenching the fists indicates anger, aggression or excitement

Palms facing up (aka the “believe me” posture)

  • honest people tend to have relaxed hands with slightly curled fingers
  • liars tend to have stiff hands with straight fingers and tend to hold the posture longer

Brushing movements away from the body is a dismissive behavior that implies an attitude toward their listener


Liars tend to have a stiffer posture, shift less, and typically don’t lean forward as much

Extroverts tend to “lock on” their alignment to the other person while introverts tend to shy away, but it can be complex


Legs’ stiffness or control can’t determine lying, but two base behaviors are very easy to read

  • Aggression usually expresses through stomping or the pantomime of kicking
  • The desire to flee shows in pantomime running or angling feet away

Generally, the wider the stance, the more comfortable the person is

Getting a confession

Liars only confess when they have or see a reason to

  • The liar needs to believe the other person knows they are lying
  • Many times, silence allows them to assume you know something

An innocent person typically shows similar attributes

  • Stays on the issue even when you change it
  • Uses contractions (e.g., can’t, won’t) and doesn’t use many time-buying mechanisms like pausing or unrelated thoughts
  • Generally offers someone specific when asked who should be responsible
  • Usually vouches for someone else (not just themselves)
  • Typically won’t react angrily or negatively
  • When uncertain, admits the infraction had occurred
  • Tries to name someone else who could be the suspect
  • Typically calls the perpetrator sick, unwell or some other negative expression
  • Usually denies the possibility of thinking of doing it
  • Typically gives an appropriate punishment for the infraction
  • Often confident they will be found not guilty
  • Doesn’t blame a victim for the wrongdoing
  • Usually rejects the idea of a second chance for the guilty
  • Has no fears in testing to prove the person right
  • Will immediately denial any implication

1. Talk alone

  • We tend to share secrets while alone
  • The social pressure to confess is outweighed in a group by the social pressure to fit in

2. Establish rapport

  • People are more likely to open up proportionally to the number of things they have in common with others
  • Once people begin talking, they usually won’t stop

3. Use the S.O.F.T.E.N. technique

  • Smile – be friendly and willing to listen to show you’re nonjudgmental
  • Open gestures – show you’re approachable and talk with your hands
  • Forward leaning – make the conversation more interpersonal and close
  • Touch – appropriate touch on hands and arms establishes rapport
  • Eyebrows raised – raising eyebrows while greeting and during the conversation establishes rapport and can also keep the person talking
  • Nod – helps a person confess by affirming they’re doing the right thing, especially when they’re starting to admit their actions

4. Determine if they are lying

  • You only need to ask a few questions and see their responses
  • If you want, you can scatter the questions throughout the conversation
  • Many people aren’t lying, so don’t let emotions overrule objectivity
  • If the suspect made a small statement, tell them you didn’t hear them and watch what they change
  • Repeat back the information incorrectly and see if they agree or change the details

5. Convince them you know the truth

  • Never ask if they’re telling the truth since everyone will say yes but will offend an innocent person
  • Once you have a rapport, the liar needs to believe three things
    1. You know the truth
    2. You understand why they did what they did
    3. Telling the truth has greater rewards for them than continuing a lie
  • The person is probably already defensive and made up a story
  • Let the person keep talking to undo their alibi
  • Use the following when possible
    • Eyewitnesses, since the person can’t be entirely sure they were unseen
    • Cameras, which could have recorded them in the act from how commonplace they are
    • Cell phone records, which can operate as a GPS even without GPS capability and can also track who made what calls and when
    • Trace human residue like the cocktail of oils and elements that indicate our presence everywhere
    • Paper trails through records of all types and sorts
    • Gigantic file folders with lots of information that imply lots of evidence
    • Anything else that comes to mind that would look like it would implicate them

6. Confrontation

  • Confrontations serve several purposes
    1. Confirm that the person is lying
    2. Convince them there is evidence of their guilt and that there’s no reason to keep lying
    3. Provide a way out for the person by showing that all they have to do is find out how to package and deliver the confession
  • Many people are uncertain about whether to confront a liar and when
  • Ask for an admission confidently and earnestly
    • Selling the person on the idea or intimidating them into it will never work
    • The liar must feel they are fixing a problem plaguing both of you
  • Show confidence with a physically dominant position (standing legs spread apart and them sitting) and use the “we” pronoun about the issue
    • Honest people will still firmly deny, but liars will try to shrink away

7. Overcoming barriers, objections, and obstacles

  • Stay focused whenever they deny or redirect
  • Put up your hand like you’re directing traffic and either get back to the point or use their statement to strengthen your case and empathize further
  • Honest people will stand firmly on their convictions, and reevaluate their honesty if they don’t move from their position

8. Theme development (make a rationalization for them)

  • The rationalizations don’t have to be accurate or right, just a reasonable thing the liar will go with
  • Some theme examples include
    • Blaming the victim (including yourself)
    • Blaming stress
    • Accusing a friend or accomplice
    • Any combination of anything that excuses their behavior

9. Persuasion techniques (marketing and advertising techniques)

  • The liar will catch on if you aren’t cautious how much you use them
  • Project power and confidence with clothing and composure (authority)
  • Give something “free” to hook others into giving back in turn (reciprocity)
  • Create a shortage by giving a “limited time opportunity” to come clean (scarcity)
  • Find common ground (liking and similarity)
  • If they trust you on one thing, they are more likely to trust you elsewhere (commitment and consistency)
  • We have been programmed from birth to conform to others
    1. Get the liar talking, then keep them talking – they will divulge more without realizing it
    2. Make them admit to a small offense first – people are willing to admit a large guilt after a small one more easily than admitting any guilt from none
    3. Accuse the liar of something worse than you suspect they did – hey will naturally be inclined to deny the larger offense by comparison and admit the smaller one
    4. Ask for anything else (aka “By The Way Syndrome”) – with a little more prodding the person will thoroughly fill in all the information

10. Recognizing when your techniques are working

  • A person who feels cornered will demonstrate the surrender position: head bowed and leaned forward with loose arms
  • Every liar with enough time will eventually break, but most honest people will become more resolute

11. The divergent question technique

  • The person in the surrender position will reach a decision point to choose to confess and alleviate the stress or experience continued stress from continued lying
    • Represented by C = T(P+U), or Confession = Time x (Pressure plus Uncertainty)
    • When asked at the proper Time when the liar is most Uncertain, the divergent question applies psychological Pressure that leads to a Confession
    • Let the liar know the stress won’t stop until YOU are comfortable with THEIR answers
  • Once the liar confesses to the divergent question, they will submit to all further questioning

Stay safe from liars online

Generally, the more abstracted the online avatar is from the person’s name, the more likely they will deceive on other matters

People are typically more honest in emails than chat rooms, text messages or phone conversations

Most people tend to use evasion, equivocation, and vagueness instead of direct deception online

More people are comfortable with deceiving online than in the real world

Men tend to lie more about

  • How much money they make
  • Social symbols of power like height or the vehicle they own
  • Relationships they are already in (already married or already dating)

Women tend to lie more about

  • Age and weight
  • Openness to relationship possibilities

Lying is a higher risk than it’s worth

Lying risks ruining your credibility

  • Liars lose far more reputation than honest people who confess
  • Even when stakes are incredibly high, you can still tell the truth while omitting information

Lies create at least two different stories the liar has to keep straight: the story for whomever they told, and the truth

  • Consistently maintaining both stories is extremely difficult, especially with so many shared elements
  • The mind will naturally forget details to where multiple stories converge together

Frequent enough lying can become compulsive

  • Nobody can trust compulsive liars, which guarantees they live lonely lives
  • Compulsive lying is an addiction and can be near-impossible to break once started

Deception is still permissible, however, and has its place

  • Redirecting and refocusing the conversation is acceptable for difficult matters
  • Buy a birthday card with something embarrassing you want to buy
  • Act like you’re on your phone when vendors or beggars approach you
  • Cry on command by relaxing the eyes for about 30 seconds, gently rubbing them for about 10 seconds, then keeping them open
  • Wear a chef’s outfit or an expensive outfit and walk very quickly to get into a large event
  • Most negotiation builds around various forms of deception
Next: Coexistence 202: Conflicts