None of us like being told lies. We are all told lies. We all find it difficult to know when we are being lied to.

Parents wrestle with this all the time, as do employers (and employees), teachers (and pupils), pastors (and people), etc.

In Church discipline cases, we are often asked to judge if one of two parties is lying. We pray for discernment; we pray for God to share His infallible view of the situation; we pray for the Holy Spirit of Truth. And still we just don’t know for sure.

Bill Rosenthal, writing for businesses, suggests some training in identifying behavioral signals when evaluating a potential liar. Here’s a summary:

  • Does the person seem uncomfortable about what she is saying? The visible anxiety may be caused by guilt or fear of getting caught, which leads liars to hurry to end the discussion and even look relieved when it’s over.
  • Their feet might be pointing in the direction of their getaway — perhaps a doorway, or a hallway.
  • They may also “freeze” the top half of the body, because of the tension they feel, or even put a barrier — such as a briefcase or purse — between themselves and you.
  • Liars also tend to avoid eye contact.
  • Practiced liars sometimes become good at maintaining eye contact, but often their anxiety emerges in the form of leg movement.
  • Be wary also of people who make excessive eye contact — they might be trying to prove that they’re telling the truth.
  • Another visible sign of a liar’s discomfort is the fake smile. The best way to tell if a smile is fake is to look for a lack of movement of the muscles surrounding the outer corners of the eye (the “crows’ feet”).
  • Someone who withholds information or keeps the conversation vague when you ask for specifics might be lying, particularly if that person finds it hard to remember something that should easily be remembered.
  • When you ask her a question, the liar may answer with much more detail than is needed….Adding lots of detail is a common trick of con artists, for example
  • If the speaker is committing to something, does the promise sound extravagant?
  • A person who is under pressure (behind on a project, needing to earn a performance reward, struggling to meet quarterly expectations) is more apt to stretch the truth than someone who is not.
  • A person who has power over others often feels more comfortable lying,
  • Other frequent liars include extroverted people and those who excel at “reading” others.
  • In general, people feel more comfortable telling lies when they perceive their audience to be deceptive themselves.
  • As they gain success in evading and manipulating the truth, liars find it increasingly easy to lie.

Although I’m rather hesitant about relying on these behavioral studies, I must admit that as I look back on people who have lied to me and to the church, an incredible number of these signals were present.

Maybe I would also add:

  • Using and abusing procedure to obstruct valid questioning
  • Magnifying small flaws in the way accusations were brought
  • Diverting attention by accusing others
  • Calling in past favors and emphasizing the over-riding virtue of loyalty
  • Threatening to take down others with them
  • Love of John 8:7
  • Highlighting catastrophic consequences
  • Cultivation of self-pity to build sympathy
  • Flattery of sympathizers

Maybe you can add your own.

May the Christ who is Truth, and the Spirit of Truth keep us in the Truth and keep us speaking the Truth. And let’s also pray that He would give us truth in the inward parts (Ps. 51:6). Then we won’t have to worry about our behavioral signals.

  • Karl Fischer
  • R. Martin Snyder

    Thanks for teaching me how to lie. LOL. Now I have another sin to deal with. lol. Good spot Dr. Very enlightening. One must also consider the persons temperament when looking at this also.

  • James Boyd

    The comments on body language are consistent with “What every BODY is saying”: main thrust of the above book is to teach how to discern as to whether someone is comfortable or uncomfortable, and principally how they change in a situation between the two.For example:If someone’s feet are always facing the door then they probably don’t want to talk with you, but if they turn towards the door at a particular line of questioning, it suggests those questions are getting near what they don’t want to talk about. The former suggests a state of discomfort, which wouldn’t indicate much, but the latter suggests the particular questions are causing the discomfort.The author was in the line of police interrogation, so he was at liberty to probe deeply into what appeared to be uncomfortable. When the individual was appearing comfortable, he might return to a question that had encouraged discomfort. I’m hoping to start using this more when people are knocking at the door selling a service; if I’m unsatisfied with how they say something to simply ask the question again – if they are again uncomfortable then there’s probably good reason for it.The body largely shows how the person feels so you do have to examine what they’re saying too – you seem to have picked up some very useful points there!

  • David Murray

    That looks like a fascinating book, James.

  • shammy

    I have had to deal with a man for about 5 months to where i was supporting him financially and emotionally, but at the same time his behaviour was just something that i was not able to accept. He made it seem like I was always starting an argument, WAS RUDE TO HIM, harsh in the way i talk, and disrespectful, and despite of it all He so claims that HIS LOVES ME N I WAS THE WOMAN HE WAS LOOKIN FOR ALL HIS LIFE. If i was to confront him about anything, he always had an answer, which just lead me to believe that he was rather a great salesman, and if he had to ,would most likely sell his own MOTHER. I have tried very hard to be as open and upfront with this man but he just stuck to his story, but i was on to him. I think I was getting too close to exposing him, and when I told him to move out, he moved in less than 36 hours. Still claims “I love u” and dont hear from him for days. With this relationship, I m very hurt, broken hearted, ashamed, emotionally, financially and mentally drained, and trusting another man is far from even wanting to go out on a date.I feel that i made the right choice and living a peaceful and calm life. Sincerely Shammy