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3 ways to spot a lie (using FBI techniques)

I hate liars, it’s something I really can’t stand. I mean come on – don’t people know how much more i’d respect them if they could just tell me the truth?

Me: “Hey do you want to go out to dinner with me this weekend?”

Girl: “I’m busy washing my hair Saturday night – sorry!”

Really!?! Just tell me you hate my guts and think I’m a weirdo – at least then I can tell you to shove it and we can be done with any future interactions (and wasted energy).

It took me a few years to learn that most people try to avoid conflict. It makes people feel bad if they call you out. People don’t like to feel bad, so instead they simply shut down completely.

*Sigh*… Maybe one day my hopes for brutal honesty will come true… For someone who values himself as being “unemotional” however, I quickly realized that I was missing a huge piece of the puzzle.

How to spot a lie

Wouldn’t it just be a million times easier if we could detect when somebody was lying? Even a white lie to get out of hanging out with you… but if that’s happening a lot, you probably have bigger problems to fry before lie detection.

I’d love to tell you it’s as simple as watching a person cover their mouth, awkwardly twitch, or avoid eye contact, but it’s not.

There are many tactics and techniques, some used by FBI Interrogators, and regardless of which techniques you use – they all rely on one core principle.

Today I want to walk you through 3 action steps you can use to help spot a liar, and some tips from a hardened FBI profiler.

STEP 1: Developing a base

The key to effective lie detecting is formed from the core concept – establishing a control baseline.

The relationship of the target should also be taken into account when trying to spot a lie – but if you can effectively establish a natural baseline, like, how they normally act and how they behave when telling the truth, you’ll be able to spot lies much easier.

When you’re establishing the baseline, notice how they act. Their blink rate, voice tonality, intonations when ending sentences, eye contact, hands and body movements, are they crossing arms or have defensive postures?

These underlying techniques lie upon this principle.

Your friend could have a bad habit of touching his face or itching his nose in general, and unless you were able to establish that normal behavior before analyzing his movements for deception, you would be easily mislead.

Watch how somebody acts when they speak the truth. When they are not under pressure, and when you know they are being honest.

Do they have a habit of itching their nose? Averting eye contact constantly? (some people can be pretty socially awkward).

This is also how polygraphs work – and how you can beat them.

It measures your heart rate, and establishes a baseline based from your response when you are asked simple and truthful questions.

That’s why when you first hook up to one, you are asked your name, where you live, questions that are easy and truthful.

The better you get at this, the easier it will be for you to detect a lie.

STEP 2. Shifting guilt – “I wouldn’t do that!”

A huge warning sign in lie detection is guilt shifting.

Now, this doesn’t always mean the other person is lying – it’s not that black and white. But this kind of guilt shifting can be a huge indicator that the other person isn’t giving you the full story.

Mary O’Toole, an FBI profiler, shares a story that we can use as a crunchy example of this in action.

Although it might be a little grim… but then again what would you expect from a hardened, sharpened FBI profiler and interrogator? Flowers and rainbows?

As she was investigating this serial killer, establishing a control, and using the techniques we talk about below, she instantly knew something was up.

As the interview with this guy played out, he acted confident and charming, answering her questions with ease and cockiness.

It was when she asked casually if he had ever victimized a child, he immediately began shouting and got super angry.

“How dare you accuse me!”
“What do you think I am, a pervert?”

Mary, figuring that him being a psychopath serial killer, basically had no moral ethics… and this defensive outburst was a huge red flag to her.

And what do you know, it turns out she was right.

Unfortunately I’ve had this happen to cheating girlfriends of mine, but “naive Cody” always wanted to believe them and how innocent they always claimed to be…

The wiser me knows how to spot these dangers, and it begins with a simple question that deserves a yes, no, or a simple answer.

“Is there somebody else?”

“Where did you go last night?”

Their response, if innocent, would be a simple yes or no. They would say “I was doing X”, with no hesitation, defensiveness or anger.

When you start getting responses that shift focus off themselves, and deflect the guilt, or try to justify themselves, you might want to raise your suspicions – but don’t jump the gun just yet.

Take these signals in stride with all the other factors going on in the interaction.

Answers such as “I can’t believe you would think that about me!” , or preaching how much of a saint they are;  “I’m an honest person, I’m so loyal, (I go to church every Sunday/insert excuse here)!” are red flags.

Keep an eye on how they react too.

A person that has something to hide might make a big scene, and be disgusted or angry that you would even consider such a fact.

Sound familiar? It does to me… naive Cody.

Are they now coming at you with questions (trying to call you out to shift the focus onto you)?

They might be using open ended speech mannerisms, and negative words or emotions that avoid responsibility…

For example,

“Do you really think I would do that?”

“I just don’t think you understand me…”

“You always assume the worst, you ALWAYS do this”

Can you think of some times in your life this has happened?

I know I have – actually it’s making me mad just thinking about it!!
…but all that’s in the past now.

STEP 3. Micro Movements & Rapid Testing

Ah, this is like the delicious icing on the ever so subtle cake!

If the previous steps leading up to now have been done right, this is where your judgements will make or break themselves.

What we are doing now is noticing small body language movements that differ from our control.

Are they all of a sudden touching their face way more often, or did their tone in their voice change?

Are they increasing their eye contact more than before, or do they try to avert it quickly?

Maybe they start;

  • touching their face,
  • Itching their nose,
  • holding lips,
  • Holding mouth,
  • crossing their arms
  • assuming defensive body positions?

Noticing subtle movements at this point can confirm your suspicions – but! The art of spotting deception is subtle and complex. A study conducted (Ekman & O’Sullivan 1991, 913-920; Granhag & Strömwall, 2004, 169; Mann & Vrij 2004) found that the very best people can only spot liars 60% of the time.

Lie detection is an art and a dance – much like a tango. It requires intuition, feeling, combined with techniques, facts, and hypothesis to test against.

I’m Cody Red, and I use psychology and persuasion to ‘hack’ life in little ways like this, to make life more fun, more exciting, and just plain easier.



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