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How to Tell If Someone Is Lying to You at Work


Everyone lies, and every workplace has its fair share of liars. It’s sometimes hard to find the whole truth at work, no matter if you’re a new employee or a seasoned veteran. Wondering if you’re getting half-truths (or “alternative facts“) in your workday? Here are some ways to tell if you’re getting lied to at work.

lying businessman
Image Credit: stevanovicigor/Getty Images
  1. The Long Pause

If you ask a colleague, “Did you finish that report last night?” and they have to pause a while before answering, you’d be right to be suspicious. Either the report is finished or not. If they stop to think, it’s likely they’re taking time to come up with some plausible excuse, or a way out of doing the job.

  1. Inconsistent Details

If you’re crafting a story in order to lie to someone, it’s likely you’ll forget details. If someone presses for details again and again, and the story shifts, it’s likely a tall tale, instead of the truth. You can also tell inconsistencies are at work when someone says they acted in a way that doesn’t make sense. Former federal agent J.J. Newberry told WebMD that when he compared a witness’ account of events to how someone would “naturally act” in that situation, he found her story lacking. If a coworker or boss says something that just doesn’t fit with natural behavior, be suspicious of their story.

  1. Covering Themselves Up

Like a poker “tell,” regular everyday liars might instinctively cover their face or mouth with their hands, or even compulsively touching their neck or nose when they’re fibbing. They might clear their throat or swallow hard like a cartoon bunny. Yes, liars do sweat a lot. When someone puts you in the proverbial “hot seat,” and asks you to tell a hard truth, you might think you’re going to burst into flame. Keep an eye out for sweaty, eye-shaders, and you’ll likely spot a liar.

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  1. Getting Defensive

In a 2005 study, USC researchers Yaling Yang and Adrian Raine found structural abnormalities to identify lying people’s brains. More specifically, they found different “wiring” in the brains of pathological liars. These liars often got angry and defensive when “caught out” in a lie.

  1. Using Certain Phrases/Structures

In a TED Ed talk, Noah Zandan points out the ways that many famous celebrities, including past U.S. Presidents, have been caught lying to the public. He points out that you can always look out for certain ways of talking that should be suspect:

  • Minimal self-reference
  • Negative language
  • Simple explanations
  • Convoluted phrasing

It’s hard to deal when someone is obviously (or subtly) lying to you, especially the workplace. Ways you can deal with it involve documenting the issue (always get everything in writing), calmly calling someone out on their indiscretion if the situation calls for it, and even taking it to a higher authority. When there’s nowhere else to go but out of the workplace (or to the government), another job might be the way to go.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you ever caught out a liar? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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