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The Truth about Lying: How to Spot a Lie and Protect Yourself from Deception

The Truth about Lying: How to Spot a Lie and Protect Yourself from Deception

by Stan Walters

Communication skills can make a big difference in whether people tell you the truth or not. Knowing when to ask the next question, the behaviors that signal when the whole story isn't being told and what questions to ask can help you cut through deception and lying so you can have confidence in your communications.

Based on the same methods used by law


Communication skills can make a big difference in whether people tell you the truth or not. Knowing when to ask the next question, the behaviors that signal when the whole story isn't being told and what questions to ask can help you cut through deception and lying so you can have confidence in your communications.

Based on the same methods used by law enforcement professionals, but appropriate for everyday interactions, these skills and techniques can be applied in almost every situation:

—hiring a nanny or household worker
—working with an employee
—talking with a service provider
—dealing with a teenager
—communicating in a romantic relationship

Without threats or intimidation, Walters' strategies will improve relationships and communication by teaching how to spot a liar and, more importantly, how to get to the truth.

Product Details

Publication date:
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New Edition
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6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.52(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Have you ever been talking to someone and had a gut feeling that the person was lying to you? You just had the sense that something was not right, but maybe you couldn't quite put your finger on any particular thing the person said or did that made you uneasy. Have you ever placed your trust in someone and later found out that he had been lying to you? Have you ever watched and listened to a conversation between two other people and you "knew" that one was lying to the other, and the poor victim bought everything the other person said, hook, line, and sinker?

    When was the last time you lied to someone? Maybe you just didn't tell that person everything or didn't give a complete answer. Maybe you just "fibbed" to him. You might even have called it "a little white lie," but it was a lie just the same. Did you allow someone to make the wrong assumption because of what you did or did not tell him? Perhaps you didn't intend to mislead him but he just came to the wrong conclusion. Congratulations! You lied to someone!

    We are faced with deception all around us. Either we are being lied to or we lie to someone else. It is not always done with malicious or evil intent. It is not necessarily covering up a crime or committing perjury. It may be fudging a little on job or loan applications. It may be protecting someone's feelings by not saying exactly what you think about the clothes he chooses, his new haircut, the decorating style, or his new girlfriend. Maybe you have decided that your friend needs to learn the hard way, or you'd prefer hefind out the truth from someone else. You don't want to be the one to deliver the bad news. At other times, maybe you just need to explain away why you're really late for work or why the work you did is late. And of course, everyone embellishes a little when out on a date—especially a first date. The dating ritual itself must be the most frequent form of deception people ever commit!

    Remember here that we're not talking about criminals but about upstanding, everyday people, including yourself. The very fabric of culture is woven from what many consider harmless lies, such as excuses made for declining an invitation, or compliments that aren't what you really believe.

    The problem is that every day of your life you make decisions after considering numerous pieces of information, facts, and opinions that you gather from the people around you—decisions that affect the lives and future of your family, friends, business associates, and yourself. You make those decisions based on the belief that those who provide the information are reliable and trustworthy and have your best interests at heart. But what if those people upon whom you rely, from whom you seek information and guidance, are not truthful with you? What if, instead of having your best interests at heart, they were more interested in serving their own personal interests and goals? If you knew from the outset that someone upon whom you relied was not being honest with you and was misleading you, withholding information from you, or being evasive about the truth, would it make any difference in the decisions you made? Can you afford to make a critical decision, or even a simple day-to-day decision, only to find out later that it was based on flase or misleading information?

    As a general rule, human beings do a very poor job of detecting deception. You might be surprised to learn that law enforcement investigators don't do any better than the general public in their ability to accurately spot a liar. How can we miss such behavior when we do the same thing ourselves? Are there any tell-tale signs? Are there any symptoms that can help us spot deception among our spouses, friends, family members, business associates, or politicians? Aren't there some special clues we can look for? Isn't there anything we can do to stop others from lying to us?

    In reality, there is little if anything you can do to stop someone from lying to you. You must accept the fact that people at some time are going to lie to you. This is not a condemnation of the human race, nor should you become suspicious and paranoid. But the fact that someone may attempt to deceive you does not mean that you have to be a victim of his deception. The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to learn how to do a better job of recognizing and correctly identifying the complex behaviors that are associated with human communication. You can learn to hear the changes in the voice and understand the meaning of the subtle nuances associated with the rate of speech, pitch of the voice, and volume that can tip you off to deception. Listening to the content of speech can help you to understand the specific mechanisms at work within the mind of the person to whom you are listening. If you can learn how to look past the distractions of stress and disguise that are found in body language, you can more accurately decipher the meaning of gestures, posture, positions, expressions, and movements.

    You certainly cannot expect to isolate and identify every single lie that you might witness, but, if you could identify the majority of the numerous attempts at deception that are made around you everyday, how much better would your life and personal relationships be? How much personal pain and loss could you avoid if you knew how to correctly decode the verbal and nonverbal communications of those with whom you associate? Then you would be able to communicate in such a way as to encourage open, honest dialogue, and you could create an environment of trust and trustworthiness around yourself so as to improve your relationships.

    You cannot and never will be able to stop someone from lying to you, but you can avoid being a victim to lies of others by acquiring the skills to correctly assess the credibility of another person's statements. Human behavior and communications studies that have focused on deception indicate the behaviors that are reliable when it comes to diagnosing someone's credibility and those behaviors that are not dependable because they are based on nothing more than folk wisdom. By establishing guidelines and a basic set of principles on how to recognize those significant behaviors, you can reduce the chances that you will mislabel innocent behaviors or fail to recognize the verbal and nonverbal phenomenon that would alert you that someone is trying to deceive you.

    Furthermore, if you can look critically at yourself and understand your own actions and reactions, emotions and motivations, thoughts and fears, and the image you have of yourself and what you want others to see in you, then you will begin to understand why others have chosen to try to deceive you and why you have deceived them.

    These skills will be useful to you in all kinds of situations with people offering you their services, such as a nanny or a car mechanic, with people selling you their products, and with friends and members of your family. You'll be in a better position to make those important decisions in your life when you know what makes people lie to you, how to tell when they may they may be lying, and different techniques for dealing with a lie when you believe you have been confronted by one. You also may want to apply these skills to drawing your own conclusions about what you see on the news or read about in the newspaper.

    Let me emphasize here that it is at all times my intention to help you develop these skills so that they can have a positive impact on your life and your relationships. It would be a shame if, after reading this book, you suddenly became suspicious and distrustful of your mate, children, friends, and the person on the street. It is my belief that knowing how to recognize deception can give you a chance to uncover areas in your life and relationships you can positively impact.

Defining Deception

Obfuscate. Misinform. Mislead. Dissemble. Prevaricate. Muddle. Deceive. Fabricate. Cloak. Distort. Equivocate. Fib. Invent. Falsify. Misrepresent. Adulterate. Evade. Hedge. Spin. Lie. Deception by whatever name is still an attempt by a person to deceive not only someone else but also himself into the bargain. We all have or will engage in at least some subtle form of deception on a daily basis. Some of these attempts to deceive are malicious in nature while other occurrences are more in the form of editing, which is designed to preserve feelings, a relationship, or the current communication exchange that has been established between two or more people. Let's face it. Sometimes people, including you and me, would much rather hear subtle distortions of the truth than to hear the blunt, cold, hard reality.

    The presence of deception in any instance suggests that the speaker has found some need to alter the perception of the truth. For the target of the deception, you the listener, the reasons behind that deception may be of vital importance in your decision-making process regarding the issue at hand and your perception of the other person's credibility and integrity. Why has the person felt it necessary to be deceitful to you? To get a better grasp on deception, you need to understand the internal systems at work when someone is being deceptive.

    Three factors or conditions exist in any situation where deception is occurring: choice, opportunity, and ability. If you understand these three factors you can get a better handle on why and how deception occurs, how to recognize it, and how to reduce the chances that it will occur in your presence.


Choice is one of the key factors that exists whenever lying takes place. The person reasons or feels that there is pressure on him not to tell the whole and complete truth and so he chooses to lie in some form. He may feel a need to lie in order to gain some form of reward or positive reinforcement that he desires. He may feel that a lie or half-truth will help him to avoid some form of punishment or negative reinforcement. Finally, he may feel pressured to deceive out of fear or an inability to determine what the consequences of the conversation may be. You as the target of the deceit may have little or no impact at all on the subject's choice to lie.

    Lying is a cognitive, or mental, process. It is not something that merely happens in a vacuum. To mislead or misinform others is a deliberate action and it is a behavior in which one chooses to engage. By being deceptive, a person accomplishes some goal, whether it be to gain a personal benefit, to avoid some form of unattractive consequence, or to protect himself or someone else in a situation that appears to be unpredictable. My point here is that a decision is made every time a lie occurs, and there are countless situations in which a person may choose to lie.

    In fact, almost everyone has a boundary, or a code of honor beyond which he will not go. In other words, a person might be unwilling to lie to his spouse, but lying to the IRS might be acceptable. Parents often are willing to hide information from their children, but would never do so in an interaction with their boss.

    The more that a person perceives is at stake, the more pressure he may feel to choose to be deceitful. For a teenager, this may be nothing more than the chance to go out on Friday or Saturday night when asked about where he's going and with whom. It can, of course, be a much more serious situation involving, with our hypothetical teenager, drugs, alcohol, or shoplifting, or with an adult, tax evasion or a political cover-up. My point is that regardless of the circumstances, there is always a choice made somewhere along the way.

    We could get into a long psychological, philosophical, and moral discussion about character, socialization, and self-esteem issues exploring why a person chooses to lie, but we are going to leave the majority of that discussion to other forums. The decision to be deceitful is one that is made solely by a person who has lied and that decision was made consciously and deliberately. One is almost never "forced" to lie except in extreme circumstances. Since we are dealing in this book with everyday situations, it is rarely the case that a person will be "forced" to lie to you, although he may perceive a need to do so.


A person's ability to lie and to lie well rests squarely on his communication skills and intellectual powers. This is not to suggest that people with good communication skills are going to be more deceptive than others, but if they choose to be, they may have more of an advantage. Others, lacking the strong communication skills to bolster the ability to be deceptive, may have to work harder at it. Unfortunately, to some, lying almost seems to come naturally.


If someone can communicate well and is inclined to be deceitful, there is little you can do. The only one of the key factors of lying over which you may have some control is the opportunity for the person to lie. To avoid being the intended target of a lie, you may want to create the impression that you are an undesirable target for someone else's deception. You can do this by making it unrewarding for someone to lie to you, developing the skills necessary to spot a lie, and learning how to challenge lies when they occur. You will reduce the opportunities that others have to lie to you, reduce the likelihood that they will take the opportunity to lie if one does arise, and minimize the extent of damage to yourself that a lie could cause if they do take the opportunity.


Many times, we have a sense or feeling that someone may be lying to us but we lack the skills necessary to pinpoint exactly which behaviors make us feel that way. In the absence of confirming information or the knowledge we need to decide if the person is being deceptive, we defer to how we feel about the person.

    When it is a person you know well, you may rely on the strength of your past encounters and the length of the relationship. You may make a snap judgment if you are feeling angry with the person at that moment or if you are feeling compassionate. If it is a person who is a relative stranger, you may rely on gut instinct or on the person's "vibe," or your perception of the energy he is giving out.

    You will always rely on these feelings to some extent, but if you take the time to understand and master the methods in this book, you will have a great deal more information on which to base your conclusions; you'll also have a number of different options to choose from in deciding how you want to handle the situation. Remember, this book is all about improving your relationships, not disrupting them.

    When a person is trying to deceive someone, one of the concerns that eventually arises is the vulnerability of that person to being deceived. If the liar believes that the person is very competent at spotting lies, one or two reactions may occur within the liar. One response may be that under the stress of scrutiny the liar ends up generating even more recognizable signs of deceit. The second response may be that the deceiver reconsiders the choice to lie. The end result either way is that the lies are more easily exposed or fewer lies are generated. Your best weapon in denying a person the opportunity to lie to you is learning how to accurately spot the signals of deception. By detecting deception accurately on a regular basis, you will make yourself a less favorable target for deceit.

    The second thing you must do is be willing to look at your own role in a situation where someone is lying to you. Do you make it difficult for people to tell you the truth as they see it because you react emotionally? Do you violently express hurt feelings? Do you become angry or vengeful? Are you known as someone who is easily offended? Do you punish your children if they admit they've done something wrong? No matter how good you get at detecting a lie, you will be setting yourself up to be lied to if people are afraid to tell you the truth. In a situation not involving someone close to you, such as when you are hiring someone to provide a service to you, are you careful and diligent in hiring, or are you quick and impulsive and always looking for the quickest solution? Are you willing to spend a little more time and learn more about this person who is offering you a service or a product, be it a lawyer, an insurance salesman, or a car mechanic? Do you have the time to make careful observations, ask thoughtful questions, and think carefully about what you observed?

    No matter how well you remember the information in this book, if you are not willing to look at your own role in your encounters with other people—did I look angry when my teenager came in late? Was I in such a hurry to buy that insurance that I didn't shop around?—if you are examining only the other person, you are getting only half the equation. In fact, as we'll discuss later, your actions can even affect the signals a person gives off, thereby making it harder for you to evaluate those signals. That is called "contamination" and we'll be looking at it more closely later on.

Communicating Your Findings

As a general rule, it is better not to tell people about their signs of deception. As you learn to use the various analysis techniques we are discussing, you may be tempted to tell a person that you have caught him lying and tell him specifically which behavior symptoms gave him away. If that's the case, there are a lot of people who are going to want to play poker with you because you have shown your hand! It may seem like a good idea and you may believe that it puts extra pressure on the person you are observing, but in the long run you are hurting yourself for several reasons.

    First, once you tell the person what you have identified as deceptive, you may not ever see that person exhibit that behavior again. You have just alerted him to exactly how you've spotted his deception and now he will try to suppress that specific behavior or behaviors. Second, once the person has been told what tell-tale behaviors have given him away, he may try to mask those signs by acting out substitute symptoms or by staging the behavior you have identified as a feint when telling the truth. This is an attempt to destroy your confidence in the accuracy of your diagnosis. Granted, you may not believe that anyone will be able to have such control of his own behavior or have the presence of mind to be able to accomplish such a feat, but the reality is that all you have succeeded in doing is to make the work harder and more complex for yourself.

    Finally, pointing out these behaviors to people is bound to have a negative effect on your family, social life, and business life. No one likes to have attention called to his weaknesses or personal flaws. Calling attention to someone's deceptive behaviors will most certainly contaminate the behaviors of others around you who will then feel you are scrutinizing their statements and analyzing them for deception. It is fine for you to develop your skills in identifying deceptive behavior without trumpeting to all who know you that you are now a human "lie detector." Think of it as learning how to use tools that will improve your own communication skills. The ability to identify when a person you're talking to is experiencing stress in the conversation, and may be considering if it is safe to tell you the truth, will give you an opportunity to create an atmosphere in which people can be honest with you about what is on their minds. This will be invaluable to you in your personal relationships. In situations where the person is a stranger to you and you are considering goods or services, these skills will help you identify when you'll want to dig for more information, check another reference, shop around a little more. Throughout this book, I'll discuss what tactics you can take when you are sure you've identified a deception. By the end of this book, you'll know not only how to spot a lie, but what to do about it.


Meet the Author

Stan Walters is known as "The Lie Guy." He teaches courses in kinesic interviewing and interrogation to law enforcement officials throughout the country, and he does many radio interviews aimed at the general public. Walters has served as a Subject Matter Expert on Interview and Interrogation for Johns Hopkins University. He resides in Kentucky.

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