Liar Liar: How to spot when someone isn’t telling the truth in business

Recognising the basic signs of lying can be very helpful to your decision making, your time management and your business focus.

Many people say the eyes are a good guide to deception, and that is true, but there are many other things we should look out for. When people are lying, uncomfortable or nervous, the stress manifests itself somewhere in their non-verbal signals.

The lies we are interested in are the ones that will make a material difference to our business or life decision in the negotiation process. We are not talking about small white lies here which make the world go round, such as a little flattery; we are talking about material information that will make a difference to our business decisions: the information that will change our best position, our target position, our walk away position, and consider our alternative position.

How people might lie

Deceivers and liars give themselves away in many subtle ways. If you check the signals and ask further questions, you will make better decisions.

Hands and feet: If they are moving about a lot or being a bit twitchy, that is a sign of nervousness or insincerity. Hands and feet are some of the hardest things to control consciously.

Hand to face gestures: Hand to face gestures can be interpreted as, at best, a sign of discomfort and, at worst, a sign of lying.

Hands over the mouth: Like a child, covering up the words that are coming out of their mouth is another classic gesture of deceit that is more likely to be seen in children. A child covers their mouth with their hands to avoid the words physically getting to their parent.

Blinking liar!: An increase in someone’s blink rate indicates that they are uncomfortable, tense or just plain lying.

Eye contact: Often people think looking someone in the eyes is a sign of honesty, but more eye contact than usual may actually be a sign that someone is over-compensating deliberately.

Verbal or linguistic deception: With verbal deception, the voice/speech rate may slow down and, usually, there will be fewer words said than normal. It is presumed that the reason for this is that the person has to consider more carefully what they say, resulting in more pauses, mistakes, hesitation, ums and ahs, as well as a substantial reduction in the length of reply and increase in voice pitch.

Linguistic deception: According to Professor Wiseman, linguistic deception comes in the form of a slowing down of the speech rate. An increase in the voice pitch, together with an increase in ahs, ums, etc. with more slips and mistakes and delays in responses.

Words: You can catch out a liar with preparation and research. Check that the words someone uses today match what you have been told before.

Someone once said that the best lie detector is the human brain, so don’t be afraid to trust your instincts. Intuitively, we know when someone is not being entirely honest, and if people are being incongruent in some way our unconscious minds will often pick up that information.

As a matter of interest, polygraphs have been used for many years to test lying. They work on the sweat glands, heart rate, blood pressure and a few other bodily functions. However, they are not used as evidence in all, bar a few, places in the world, as they are not considered reliable enough.

The best test is to trust your gut feel when you think something is not true. So just like Lieutenant Columbo used to do, ask key questions and look and listen carefully to the responses you get. It will give you valuable information to help you win in negotiations.

Derek Arden is an international negotiator, a conference speaker and author of Win Win, published by Pearson in July 2015. See: or follow him on twitter: @derekarden