How to Detect a Liar Using NonVerbal Communication

Do you ever feel like someone is not being honest with you? Maybe you can’t explain it in words, but you have a gut feeling that something isn’t quite right. It happens in our personal and professional lives, and it is important to follow your instincts and find your way to the truth.

Telling untruths is unprofessional and leads to a myriad of troubles in the workplace. For an effective work environment, teams need to trust each other and build relationships built on honesty and the common goal of achieving the best results on the job.

But some colleagues, clients, potential hires, and even executives do not always tell the truth. It would be great to have a magic wand that could tell you who is lying and who isn’t, but that isn’t an option. Luckily, there are other ways to understand if someone is less than honest with you and your company.

But first, what motivates people not to tell the truth?

Why Do People Lie?

The hard truth is we all lie, but we are not all liars. We all lie sometimes. But there is a difference between white lies, omitting information, and bald-faced falsehoods.

I prefer to use the term people who lie or when someone lies rather than liars because, quite frankly, we are all liars, but most of us only lie sometimes and for varied reasons. According to Psychology Today,  only around 5% of the population are habitual or compulsive liars.

The main reason most people lie is to avoid pain when the truth might lead to suffering. People lie to protect themselves or someone else from being punished. In some cases, they lie to avoid an embarrassing or uncomfortable situation or boost self-worth in the eyes of others. All of these reasons to lie have a clear reason and purpose. There is an emotional motivation behind the lie.

White Lies

In the case of white lies, it is usually as simple as not hurting someone’s feelings. A husband may tell his spouse her new haircut looks great when, in fact, he doesn’t think that but doesn’t want to hurt her. These types of lies are usually for the benefit of another person.

Omitting Information

An interesting take on lying is when people intentionally omit information. They may feel better about themselves because they think they aren’t actually lying, just not sharing information that is key to a situation.

False Information

Bald-faced lies are a complete fabrication of the truth. Sometimes they start with a kernel of truth and then develop into a lie. Other times, the lie is a complete fabrication. 

Then, there are the lies that have no motivation other than the lie itself. These lies are challenging because they don’t make sense. It is difficult to understand why someone would not tell the truth about something of no importance.

In the case of white lies, it is best to leave them alone. If these aren’t hurting anyone, as the goal is kindness, then there is no clear objective in outing a lie.

In other cases, these lies can lead to more complicated situations in the workplace. It is important for professionals to be able to spot a liar, whether in an interview or after the person has joined the company. Working with someone who lies repeatedly can lead to a break in trust and team dynamics/synergy, create resentment and confusion among team members, and be an overall disaster for your business and professional goals. 

Learning to spot a lie and a person who repeatedly engages in lies requires training, the habit of careful observation, and a keen eye.


detect lies

Why Body Language Trumps Your Words

David Matsumoto, an expert in microexpressions, gestures, nonverbal behaviour, culture, and emotion, explains that if you want to get good at detecting lies, you need to observe people. He explains when your body language and nonverbal communication are congruent, the words you speak have much higher value, but when your nonverbal communication is not congruent with your words, people tend to disregard the words spoken and focus on the body language.

What is Nonverbal Communication?

Research shows that when people are lying, they experience negative emotions because they know they are lying and feel some self-contempt or contempt for the situation that is forcing them to lie. So there are nonverbal cues that the person exhibits without even being aware of them.

Nonverbal communication is how we communicate through body language and facial gestures. Facial expressions are a code or signals that reflect how a person feels from moment to moment.

Body Language: is how we move our body; for example, arms crossed across the chest are usually a sign of defensiveness. Or sitting back too far shows disinterest. It is not uncommon for our bodies to communicate something our words are not.

Microexpressions: are facial expressions that happen quickly. They are a natural reaction to the situation that is involuntary, and they are a way to gauge the true authentic emotions that others are experiencing. Human beings all share this common form of nonverbal communication across cultures, languages, and socio-economic backgrounds. When someone is not telling the truth, trying to hide their emotions and the stakes are high. Those hidden emotions will “flash” on their face for just a split second because intense human emotions are impossible to hide. 

Nonverbal Communication

When you think someone is being dishonest with you, try observing them for emotional incongruencies, and look for out-of-the-ordinary gestures or, better yet, a cluster of nonverbal movements that demonstrate discomfort for that person. Discomfort can manifest itself in many ways: anger, contempt, disgust, fear, and sadness.

Cluster refers to two or more nonverbal gestures. It could be a facial tick, a shoulder raise, or a brow wrinkle. Once you learn how to identify discomfort or when someone feels emotionally uncomfortable, then it’s much easier to grab a glimpse into someone’s inner world.

However, there is no foolproof universal signal demonstrating dishonesty, but there are a few nonverbal signs that, when in a cluster, could mean that the truth is not being upheld. And experience understanding human behaviour.

  • Excessive blinking
  • Eyes darting around
  • Irregular eye contact
  • Fidgeting
  • Excessive body touching
  • Quick head movements jerk up
  • Nodding yes while saying no or vice versa
  • Face flushing and sweating
  • Wringing the fingers

How to Use Communication Skills Training to Detect Lies

"Start with observing the person and looking for clues to their behavior, and asking questions."

Many people caught in a lie have not thought out the entire lie, so they have to quickly think of other lies to develop a coherent story that may not make sense. You don’t have to be a drill sergeant drilling a person with questions, but persistent friendly, cheerful questioning in a matter-of-fact tone can confuse the person lying. Generally, the more a person talks, the more information they will share, making it easier to put together the pieces and find the lie.

One of the first lessons in communications training is to learn to observe and read people. Understanding what nonverbal gestures indicate comfort or discomfort. Reading others’ body language and social cues provides a plethora of information before the person seen opens their mouth. 

Nonverbal Signs of Lying

  • Microexpressions
  • Disconcerting eye contact
  • Fidgeting
  • Head movement not aligned with words
  • Covering mouth or face in some way
  • Finger-pointing figuratively and literally


Verbal Signs of Lying

  • Lack of detail or excessive unimportant details
  • Rise or fall of the voice
  • Speaking slowly to guard their words or suddenly speaking quickly
  • Defensive tone
  • Deflecting
  • Avoid answering questions and refocusing the conversation on an unrelated subject
  • For example, ask whether you had dinner with X, and the response talks about all the wonderful things they’ve done. See an excellent example in the video.

Dr. Lillian Glass, behavioral analyst, body language expert, and author of “The Body Language of Liars“, explained to Business Insider that when a person is lying, they want to take the attention off of themselves and turn it to another or away from themselves. They may point a finger, literally or figuratively, at others as a way to shift focus.

Keep in mind that these are possible signs of deceit, not confirmations of deceit. By using your own critical thinking skills, observation, experience, and background knowledge of the person and situation, you can be sure you have all of the tools necessary to make a clear assessment of the situation and the truth, wherever it may or may not be hiding.

I always like to remind my students and readers that if they’re dealing with a sociopath or psychopath, few of these rules apply because these types of people are emotionally dysfunctional.

The bottom line is that honesty and authenticity are key to a productive workplace. There are quite a few ways that we at DrWeberCoaching teach you how to detect a liar.

If you would like to learn more about nonverbal communication, communication in sales, and communication styles and gain a deeper understanding of how you and your team can communicate more effectively, reach out to Dr. Weber at for a Communication Mastery Success Consultation.


Key Takeaways

Detecting dishonesty requires understanding the nuances of nonverbal communication.

Observing body language, microexpressions, and verbal cues can reveal inconsistencies between words and emotions.

While there’s no universal signal for lying, clusters of signs such as excessive blinking, irregular eye contact, or defensive tones can indicate deception.

Asking questions and observing reactions can unravel inconsistencies in a person’s story.

However, it’s essential to consider context and individual differences.

Authenticity and honesty are crucial for a productive workplace, and honing these skills can lead to effective communication and trust-building.

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