From a certain age, we all learn how to lie. And there are a number of different reasons why we would do this: to avoid punishment, to avoid embarrassment, to maintain our privacy, to make ourselves look better, to protect someone we love, and so on. Most of the time, there is no quick and easy way to know for sure when someone is lying to us. That’s why trust is always key in relationships, especially in our friendships.
Perhaps you’ve noticed your friend acting out of character lately and want to know why. Or sense that they may be hiding something from you and want to get to the bottom of it. It can be frustrating when our friends aren’t completely honest or upfront with us, especially about the things that matter, so sometimes we have to figure out for ourselves whether or not they’re telling the truth.
On that note, here are 8 subtle signs you should look out for that tell you your friend may be lying to you:
1. They do a lot of hand gestures
First and foremost, carefully observe your friend’s body language. Experts believe that people often gesture a lot with their hands when they’re lying, and it’s especially telling if they do it after speaking instead of during like most people. This is because their minds are so busy coming up with the lie and making up a story to support it that it often delays their gesturing and movements (Jalili, 2019). Someone who’s lying is also more likely to use both hands when gesturing, face their palms away from you, and exaggerate their movements.
2. They fidget more than usual
Another telltale sign that your friend is not being honest with you is if you notice them fidgeting more than usual. Do they shuffle their feet a lot? Or rock back and forth? Do they keep turning their head while they’re talking? Or touch their face and play with their hair? All of these are examples of “nervous tics” that people subconsciously do when they’re lying. When you’re nervous (like most of us do whenever we lie to someone), your heartbeat accelerates and your autonomic nervous system goes into overdrive, causing you to feel restless and on edge (Ekman, O’Sullivan, Friesen, & Scherer, 1991).
3. They break eye contact with you
Most of us think that when someone is lying to us, they can’t look us straight in the eyes. But interestingly enough, one recent study showed that people who are lying are actually 70% more likely to stare directly at those they’re talking to than the people who were telling the truth (Geiselman, 2015). This is because they want to appear confident in what they’re saying and act as if they have nothing to hide. The real trick is if they can maintain eye contact with you, because liars have a tendency to look away and break eye contact a lot (Ekman, 2009).
4. Their tone of voice changes
Aside from body language and facial cues, you can get a good idea of whether or not your friend is lying to you by listening closely to the tone of their voice. People who are nervous usually talk in a higher pitch than normal because the muscles in our vocal cords tighten up as an instinctive response to stress (Sewell, 2020). They might also talk hurriedly or raise their voice when they get defensive. Other tells to look out for include: a crack in their voice, frequently clearing their throat, and if they swallow before they speak.
5. They repeat words or phrases
When your friend tells you what happened or gives you a reason why they couldn’t make it, you notice them repeating certain words or phrases over and over again. And while that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re lying to you, it should still raise your suspicions. It might be a subconscious sign that they are still trying to convince themselves of something that didn’t happen. Liars tend to talk more and repeat themselves a lot as a way of seeming more open, honest, and genuine (Evans, Xu & Lee, 2011).
6. They give very vague answers
Let’s say you want to know why your friend can’t come to your birthday party this weekend. And they tell you something like, “Oh, I have this really important thing I need to do” and just leave it at that. Watch out! Studies show that vague answers like these often mean that they’re lying (Jalili, 2019). They might also repeat questions before answering them, say “um” or “uh” a lot instead of responding right away, and intentionally leave out important details. There may also be a lot of inconsistency in what they’re saying (i.e. “I’m going to this thing with my mom – I mean, my sister. Sorry, I got confused for a second.”)
7. They quickly end the conversation
Once your friend thinks they’ve already convinced you of their lies, they’ll most likely want to end the conversation as soon as possible. They might change the topic or act indifferent (i.e. shrugging, looking bored, checking their watch, etc.) to prompt you to do it. They might also excuse themselves by saying they have somewhere else to be, or an appointment they’re running late to, or pretend to answer a phone call and leave.
8. You sense something is off with them
Finally, when all else fails, just trust your instincts and go with your gut. If you sense that your friend seems off or notice them acting suspiciously lately, then there’s probably more to the story. One study even found that participants could intuitively tell when someone is lying with up to 43% accuracy (Hartwig & Bond, 2011). That’s because there are a lot of nonverbal cues that our subconscious mind may pick up that tell us that our friends are lying or hiding something from us. And the better we know them, the more accurately we can tell.
So, did you notice any of these signs when talking to your friend? Do you think they may be being dishonest with you about something?
Figuring out whether or not someone is lying isn’t really an exact science. Research in this field is limited and often not very generalizable because people all have different quirks and mannerisms. And because psychology can only tell us so much, you shouldn’t take these signs as incriminating or foolproof in any way.
The bottom line is: if you feel like there’s something your friend isn’t telling you, you should just confront them about it. Hopefully, they can be honest with you and open up about it. But if they don’t feel comfortable sharing it with you, then it’s best to just respect their privacy like a good friend would.
- Geiselman, R. E. (2015). Some boundary conditions for bystander misidentification. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 24(3), 370-390.
- Ekman, P. (2009). Lie catching and microexpressions. The philosophy of deception, 1(2), 5.
- Evans, A. D., Xu, F., & Lee, K. (2011). When all signs point to you: Lies told in the face of evidence. Developmental Psychology, 47(1), 39.
- Ekman, P., O’Sullivan, M., Friesen, W. V., & Scherer, K. R. (1991). Invited article: Face, voice, and body in detecting deceit. Journal of nonverbal behavior, 15(2), 125-135.
- Hartwig, M., & Bond Jr, C. F. (2011). Why do lie-catchers fail? A lens model meta-analysis of human lie judgments. Psychological bulletin, 137(4), 643.Jalili, C. (2019). “How to Tell if Some is Lying to You, According to Body Language Experts”. Time Magazine. Retrieved 21 April 2020 from https://time.com/5443204/signs-lying-body-language-experts/
- Sewell, D. (2020). “How to Spot the 6 Telltale Signs Someone is Lying.” Reader’s Digest Canada. Retrieved 21 April 2020 from https://www.readersdigest.ca/health/relationships/how-tell-if-someone-is-lying/