Did you ever see that show Lie to Me? It was all about a guy who could tell you were lying by subtle clues in your facial expressions and other mannerisms. That guy must’ve been a real pain to work for, but his employees probably knew all about these common language faux pas that liars make.
Now, I don’t advocate lying to your boss, but what if you need to throw her a surprise party? This list will rescue you and the rest of the party-planing committee. Yeah. That’s what this is for.
Disclaimer: This article is just for fun. According to Pam Meyer, author of Liespotting, it’s important to know the person before you can spot a lie by the words they use. You need a baseline of how these words appear in their natural speech. You should also expect the words to appear in clusters along with other indicators of lying. Only trained professionals can really implement these techniques.
The word “actually” is often used for comparison, so overall, it’s an innocent word. If your boss asks if you emailed your TPS report to Bob in Accounting and you say, “Actually, I printed it out and walked it down to him,” there’s no reason to assume you’re lying. You were simply noting that while Bob does have the report, your method of getting it to him wasn’t exactly what the boss suggested.
But if your boss says, “What did you do this morning?” And you say, “Actually, I did those TPS reports you asked me to do,” that’s a little suspect. Why compare it to anything if your boss didn’t say anything? Because you’re comparing it in your head to what you really did, which was obviously ordering the cake for your boss’s surprise party.
2. “Honestly,” “truthfully”
Liars often try to emphasize their honesty by repeatedly saying words and phrases like “honestly,” “truthfully” and “to be honest with you.”
Liars tend to inadvertently avoid contractions in order to emphasize their lie. Think: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Or “That was not my car you saw parked outside Party Warehouse when I was supposed to be at work on the day that happens to be your birthday.”
4. Lack of personal pronouns
Here, it’s what you don’t say. If someone is accused of charging personal expenses to their business credit card, a liar is more like to say, “You don’t charge personal expenses to the company’s card.” An honest person would say, “I didn’t charge personal expenses to my business credit card.”
5. “A,” “the”
This is a weird one. It seems that liars tend to confuse the words “a” and “the,” saying one when you’d expect the other.
6. “Well,” “actually,” etc.
I know this is the second appearance of “actually” on this list, but the word functions differently here. People who are lying often need time to think, so they may start their sentences with irrelevant words that offer opportunities to pause and think. “Well… I’m not sure why the conference room light is off, but I’m sure you’re just imagining the whispering.”
7. “Maybe,” “usually,” etc.
Sometimes, noncommittal language just means someone can’t be 100 percent sure, but it also may mean they’re leaving themselves an out until they’re sure what you know or what you’ll find out.
Other words and phrases that tell people you’re lying
Besides the actual words they use, liars also have other verbal and linguistic indicators. If you’re throwing your boss a surprise party (wink, wink), be careful not to give yourself away with these liar red flags.
- When asked a direct question, liars will often simply repeat the question verbatim to stall.
- Liars tend to be extremely chronological when telling stories so they can keep it straight, whereas in normal conversation, it’s common to jump around to maintain our emotional connection to events (or just because we suddenly realize we left out something important).
- Liars use qualifying statements like “As far as I recall” and “If I remember correctly.”
- Liars are often very specific, mostly with their introductions. But they may gloss over the actual details.
- Liars get really guarded when asked a direct question. People who are guarded tend to lower their voices and ask seemingly nonsensical questions, like “What do you mean?”
- Liars are very specific in their phrasing. If you’re telling the truth, you’re likely to categorically deny an allegation.
What was the last time you were lied to, and how did you know? Tell us in the comments below.