How to spot a liar?

Do you have someone in your environment whose life – certainly online – seems to be too good to be true? Who tells tall tales? Is this giving you unnecessary and unwanted FOMO?

Liars are everywhere. From people embellishing the truth, especially on social media, to people telling white lies and people outright lying in your face. The times when people would either go reddish or at least appear somewhat uncomfortable by their fibs, seem a distant memory. Are we better at lying now? Do social media seduce us to lying about ourselves and our lives and do we expect others to lie at least a little bit and do we take this into account, by being cynical and adding some salt to the (big) story someone tells you?

Research says the opposite: we forget to apply scepticism and salt. Ironically, we are quite trusting of others, we are even programmed to trust others. This trust however is met with lots of fibbing on social media and equally, although we trust others, we do lie ourselves about our sociability and friend-groups or our success.

The top 5 things we lie about most, apparently are:

  1. Money & wealth;
  2. How much fun we have;
  3. Popularity and friends;
  4. Love life;
  5. Perfect family life.

These ‘lies’ play out mainly on social media and often are meant to display a picture of perfection and may give you FOMO (it is intended to). Many teens say they do post selectively on social media indeed to make others envy them. If you suffer from FOMO, please know that many of us (some stats say 70% of us in fact) are dishonest on our social media feeds. Social media postings are often not aligned with the poster’s real life and you have no reason to believe everything you see face-value.

But how can you know if someone is lying to you either on text or in person, which is perhaps more painful, especially if this is a friend or a romantic interest? We want to trust, we do trust, but there are some flags to pick up on in conversation with a liar.

Some of these flags flare up because the liar is describing circumstances in an unusual amount of detail, far too much detail as if liars are trying to convince themselves more than they are trying to convince you. Secondly, the liar uses words they normally don’t use, to add to the smoke screen and to the plausibility of the lie. Someone once advised me when guessing numbers, for example, one should not say “Oh I think it is 90”, but instead say “it is 90.67”, which increases the credibility level (really?) and deflects questions. Lastly, inexperienced liars tend to get fidgety, avoid eye contact and use more hand gestures than they normally would.

So, what to do when you know someone is lying to you and instead you want them to just tell you the truth? What is the best way to confront them? First, you could ask them, the liar, to tell the same story again or backwards. When someone has been lying it is extremely difficult to tell the lie again, but telling it backwards becomes a maze. Another thing to do is to ask about the details in the liar’s story – this will possibly lead to even more digging in and reinforcing the fib, making the liar ever more uncomfortable (this works both for text and face to face).

Lastly, when you are talking face-to-face keep eye contact with the liar, and give the fibber an ‘out’, an opening to revert to the truth without enormous humiliation. Liars are spotted much easier than they themselves think and it will affect their standing and reputation. Sticking to the truth instead leaves so much brain space for other things. Beats lying any day.

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