I have a degree in communication and at one point thought I might be interested in a career with the FBI doing something around communication and behavioral analysis. I decided that I don’t have the stomach for it, like who am I kidding I can’t even watch horror movies alone. I also didn’t want to deal with the second hand trauma and really wouldn’t want to keep so many secrets from close friends and family. BUT part of my communication studies nonetheless did include the dark side of communication, or studying things like deception detection.
A while back we did a podcast episode on how to tell if someone is lying by what they are saying, but there is so much more to it – Body Language being a huge factor.
How accurately can the average person tell when someone is lying?
Th truth is, most people are naturally pretty awful at accurately detecting lies. People tend to believe that they are able to detect deception much more than they actually can. A study published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences found that people on average were only able to tell when someone was lying accurately about 54% of the time. That’s just slightly better than a blind guess.
The more information you have, the better off you will be when it comes to knowing if someone is lying, so keep reading, because this may just help you spot the next lie someone tells you.
How much of what people say is nonverbal?
The majority of what we say (around 55%) is actually communicated through our body language and not our choice of words or tone.
What is the most telling part of the body when it comes to reading body language?
If you guessed feet you would be correct. Shakira taught us that the hips don’t lie, but as it turns out, neither do the feet.
We learn to modify our facial expressions from an early age. Maybe we are told trying to look like we are enjoying something or . While there can certainly be tells in the face, we are more aware of our facial expressions and these can be harder to get an accurate read on.
Our feet however don’t tend to be top of mind. We often subconsciously allow our feet to give away clues about how we are feeling.
Body language of the feet: What to look for
There are two things that stand out to me the most and those are happy feet and directional tells.
Happy feet body language: This is when someone is excited or happy and their feet start to move more. They might bounce, shake or wiggle their feet.
Foot movements can also come when someone is anxious, but depending on context and additional info, you should be able to tell.
Some people wiggle their feet because they are naturally more fidgety. What you are looking for is a change in foot movements, maybe they switch from fidgeting to bouncing or shaking their foot. You’re looking for changes to the baseline.
This can be a great thing to look for if you play poker, if you can see their feet that is. Someone might have a great poker face, and be totally unaware of their happy feet showing their excitement regarding their cards.
Pointing feet body language: You may have heard that when someone likes you they will point their feet in your direction. This is true, because people tend to subconsciously point their feet in the direction of what they want. So if they are talking to you, but their feet are point towards the door, this could be a sign that they actually want to leave.
Body Language: Leaning In
Just like the direction of the feet tell us things, so does the rest of the body. If someone is leaning in towards you with their whole body, it is likely that they are very engaged and interested.
If they are leaning at an angle that creates more distance however, this could indicate less engagement or interest.
Verbal and Non-Verbal Inconsistencies when Someone is Lying
Verbal and non-verbal inconsistencies are a great way to note red flags for potential deception.
One common thing that people subconsciously do when they are lying is state one things, while indicating with their body language something else.
An easy example is when someone says yes to be agreeable, but shakes their head no.
Another example might be someone nervously fidgeting with their necklace or constantly touching their neck, playing with their hair… you ask if everything is okay or if they are stressed at all and they reply that everything is fine. Chances are they are nervous or stressed about something. It’s worth noting that not everyone is self aware enough to recognize this in themselves and communicate it. Nonetheless, the body language doesn’t lie.
In these scenarios you want to pay attention to the body language over the verbal statement, because that is most likely where the truth lies.
Pacifying Behaviors for Lie Spotting
Pacifying behaviors are things that we do to soothe ourselves when we are stressed out. You know how a baby might suck their fingers or thumb? Most adults aren’t still sucking our thumbs, but we do have a variety of ways we touch ourselves or fidget that send signals to the brain and help us cope in stressful situations.
These pacifying behaviors include things like touching the neck, touching or squeezing the ears, putting a hand on the back of the neck, playing with a necklace, etc.
Now if someone does this during conversation does that mean they are lying? No – it means they might feel stressed or anxious. BUT if you notice a pattern, like they touch their neck every time you ask about where they were last night and that is the only time they are touching their neck throughout the conversation… well there could be a reason that topic is stressing them out. This is when you definitely want to pay attention to see if there are any other behaviors that are red flags.
Use your intuition to tell when someone is lying
Listening to your intuition is important. Have you ever been talking to someone and just get a gut feeling like something is off or what they are saying doesn’t add up? While most people who aren’t trained in deception detection aren’t very good at accurately detecting it… being in tune with your own intuition will make a huge difference regardless of training.
While most people don’t consciously see the subtitles signs of deception, they do subconsciously register them. This is where awareness of your own intuition is key.
If something feels off, you may have subconsciously registered some queues of deception. If you are aware of additional indicators to look for, start paying attention because the more red flags you spot the higher the probability that someone is lying.
- Study: Can Ordinary People Detect Deception After All? https://carlsonschool.umn.edu/sites/carlsonschool.umn.edu/files/2019-04/ten_brinke_vohs_carney_tics_2016_lie_detection_0.pdf
- Is Nonverbal Communication a Numbers Game? https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beyond-words/201109/is-nonverbal-communication-numbers-game
- Leaving Neverland (documentary referenced, so sorry I am not sure if the interview mentioned is in part 1 or 2): https://www.tvguide.com/movies/leaving-neverland/2030373994/
Some books Erin recommends if you want to learn more:
- What Every Body is Saying By Joe Navarro with Marvin Karlin, Ph.D https://www.amazon.com/What-Every-BODY-Is-Saying-audiobook/dp/B006ZNFEKW
- Liespotting by Pamela Meyer https://www.amazon.com/Liespotting-Pamela-Meyer-audiobook/dp/B00797LMRM
- Spy the Lie by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd and Susan Carnicero https://www.amazon.com/Spy-Lie-audiobook/dp/B008M20SZ0