The 5 Best Ways to Catch Liars
If you are someone who has spent a lot of time trying to figure out why human beings do what they do, you learn a lot about the big things like mental health, what economic systems work best, and what makes people happy and unhappy.
However, you also can pick up some more practical advice, like how to catch liars. Granted, you may not always need this when you’re dealing with politicians (hint: they’re all liars), but in everyday life it comes in handy. Is your husband lying to you? Is your kid lying? What about your boss? Your friend?
This becomes relevant because most people THINK they’re good at picking out liars, but they’re actually not. Multiple studies have shown that the average person barely does better than 50/50 at picking out liars and even a lot of professionals, like police officers or customs agents aren’t much better at it without training.
Still, using techniques that have been developed by therapists, detectives, lawyers, scientists, and researchers, you can beat those odds, although there’s no simple “trick” to it. “Oh, they’re talking fast so they must be lying” or “They’re sweating, so they must be full of it” doesn’t work very well because there’s just too much variability among human beings to have any simple “tell”. So, what does work?
Well, first of all, keep in mind that there usually isn’t a silver bullet in most cases other than #3 below. You’re going to have to make a judgment call about whether a person is being honest or not. Since, as we discussed already, we humans tend to be bad at that, how do you improve your odds?
1) Keep them talking: Do you know what I do when I hear someone say something to me that I am almost sure is an outrageous lie? I don’t challenge them on it because I don’t want them to realize that I’m on to them. I want them to think I’m buying whatever they’re selling so that they will keep talking.
One reason for that is that it’s harder to keep your lies straight than to keep up with the truth. So, the more lies someone has to keep up with in their head, the more likely they are to make mistakes. In other words, the more liars talk, the more things that “just don’t sound right” tend to pile up.
If you hear one thing that sounds like bullsh*t, maybe against the odds, it’s actually true. However, the more statements like that you hear, the less likely it is that they’re telling the truth.
However, if you clue them in that you think they’re full of crap, they’ll get more careful. They may clam up. They may not make any more outrageous claims. They may even realize something was off in their original statement and try to cover for their earlier lie. So, if you think you’re talking to a liar, keep them blabbing and soon enough, they’ll often hand you the rope you need to hang them with.
2) Make them choke on details: While the suspected liar is talking, you want to be constantly encouraging them to talk. One way to do that is by asking questions. Most of those questions won’t be particularly difficult to answer, but you can also ask questions that a pretender would choke on while someone legitimate would get with ease.
For example, if you wanted to trip up a woman in her forties who was claiming to be twenty-two, you might ask her what year she was born. If someone who had never served in the military claimed to be a SEAL, you might ask them some questions about SEAL training, military rank, or what unit they served in. If a person claimed they lived in Myrtle Beach, but you were pretty sure they had never been there, you could ask what some of the best restaurants and tourist attractions to visit there are.
What you’re shooting for here is to give them a question that a legit person could answer easily, but that a liar would have to think about. That pause that they shouldn’t have to even think about? It’s a sign that they’re lying. Again, this needs to be done without alerting them that you’ve figured out that they’re a liar. You only let them realize you’ve caught them if you’re going for the kill shot, which will be discussed in #3.
3) You ask them questions you know the answer to in order to see if they’re lying: This is often used by experienced detectives and lawyers who’ve had time to do their research, but it can be useful in a wide variety of situations. You want to ask them a question that you suspect they’ll lie about when you already know the correct answer.
For example, maybe your daughter tells you that she’s going to a sleepover at her friend Macy’s house, but you called Macy’s house, and her parents say they haven’t seen her in a month. When she comes home in the morning, you ask, “How was the sleepover at Macy’s house?”
If you’re a cop and you have a video of a guy with a long rap sheet entering an area right before a crime took place, you may ask him what he was doing at that time of day. If he says he was asleep at his house, you know he’s full of it. You still don’t have to tell the liar that you’ve caught him in a situation like this, but once you know that without a doubt he’s a spinner of yarns, it will help you decide how things go from there.
4) Do you always agree with them?: This is one an awful lot of people seem to miss in politics these days. If you agree with someone on everything, all the time, all the way down the line, it’s a sign that they’re just pandering to you and just telling you what you want to hear. Thomas Sowell was spot on when he said:
This is a big part of why the mainstream and conservative media in America have turned into piles of hot garbage these days. They KNOW what their audiences want to hear, and they feed it to them all day long. If someone on “their side” does something wrong, they explain why it’s not a problem. If someone on the other side so much as jaywalks, they explain why it’s a constitutional crisis and the worst thing that happened in America since the Civil War.
If you’re not sometimes hearing things you disagree with or at least things that aren’t just red meat designed to cater to your prejudices, you’re being played. If that’s all someone ever offers you, you don’t really know what they believe for sure, but you can be absolutely certain that you’re not hearing it.
5) Being overly certain: This one can be a little tricky because there are people in certain situations who can give you very definitive answers to certain subjects. If you ask a Muay Thai champ what the best way to get out of a clinch is or a heart surgeon the best way to do an ablation, it’s possible that you may get a fairly definitive answer. However, if you ask the heart surgeon about Muay Thai or the Muay Thai champ about heart surgery and get definitive answers, your antenna should go up a bit.
One thing certain types of charismatic bullsh*tters have learned is that they can get by with almost anything if they say it in a confident, definitive manner.
So, this is pretty much how they answer every question. They don’t tend to back up their answers, show a deep understanding of the subject matter, or try to make a solid case for what they’re saying, they just tell you how it is.
This becomes especially relevant if they’re offering up a controversial take on a much-debated topic without any evidence to back it up. If someone says Barack Obama was the best president in American history, bananas cause heart disease, or claims cigarettes are good for your health without immediately offering an explanation for why they think something like that, it’s a sign they don’t know what they’re talking about and are just bluffing their way through the conversation.
Ironically, many of the most knowledgeable people tend to hedge what they’re saying a little bit or provide their reasoning because often the more you know, the more you realize that there are many subjects where there are only best guesses, not detailed, definitive answers.