Longtime Detective Reveals 7 Tiny Signs Someone's Lying

The truth about lies and how to see through them, according to real-life private eye.

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In one day, the average person lies four times. That’s 1,460 lies per year. That’s right, folks. We’re weaving tales, fudging facts, and spinning yarns four times a day. Whether it’s a white lie to spare a friend’s feelings or a more elaborate whopper, the fact remains — we lie a lot. As much as we lie, you’d think we’d be good at spotting when we’re being lied to. Spoiler alert: we’re not. Research shows we detect lies no better than 50% of the time — a coin flip.


Being a detective was like having a front-row seat at the Olympics of lying. We expect it; no one wants to spend years in jail. No lie is too big. I can’t count the number of times I have arrested someone and later found drugs in their pant pocket. We would talk about the drugs later in an interview, and the “truth” would come out. “These aren’t my pants.” For the people who didn’t dispute ownership of the pants they were wearing, they would have a different “truth.” “I found those and was just about to get rid of them when you picked me up.” You see, this poor soul was just being a Good Samaritan. Probably making sure drugs didn’t fall into the hands of kids.


Lying is complex. Especially outside police interrogation, where the reasons are apparent. People lie in social interactions with friends, their spouses, their families, and even strangers. There is always a reason for lying, although the reason can be hard to determine. It can be fear of judgment, maintaining social status or image, or financial gain.

I don't claim to be an expert at detecting lies, but after hundreds of interviews, patterns in human behavior emerge. Since we interview truthful and deceptive people, the traits associated with both become clearer over time. People are unique and dynamic, so these signs are not foolproof. However, they have proven right in my experience with surprising accuracy.

Here are 7 signs that someone is lying to you:

1. Anything other than a firm 'no' is a 'yes'

What does that mean exactly? Unless they are a psychopath or a sociopath (terms that have fallen out of favor), we don’t inherently desire to lie. That means we subconsciously try to avoid lying so we avoid firm answers. And if you are dealing with a psychopath or a sociopath, which make up about one percent of the population — you may not see any of these signs.

Here’s an example: If I ask a suspect, “The night of the shooting, were you at the house,” the innocent person almost always just says, “No.” There’s no drama or long-winded story; it’s just “no.” When I ask a guilty person that same question, the answer is almost always: “That’s crazy. Why would I have been there?” or “I had no reason to be there.”


The deceiver loves to answer a question with a question and avoid a short, firm response without qualifiers. You’ll see versions of this everywhere. If I ask someone if they liked an article I wrote, and they say, “It was really interesting,” that’s a no. They probably didn’t like it but didn’t want to hurt my feelings. Honesty is direct, whereas dishonesty tends to be indirect.

RELATED: 6 Simple Things You Can Do To Catch A Liar In The Act

2. Body language

There’s a lot of debate about body language and its usefulness in detecting deception. I’ve found that it can be used effectively, but only under the right circumstances. You need to ask the person questions where you know the answer and observe them when they give you truthful responses. Does their response flow freely without hesitation? Are there subtle mannerisms they use each time they give a truthful response? This is their baseline. This is who they are and how they act when providing honest answers. Once you know that, any deviation stands out. Eye contact can be especially significant; many people maintain it well when truthful and deviate when dishonest. They may develop a fidget or a tick when dishonest.



3. Avoidance

There is always a reason someone avoids a situation, a topic, or a person. It can be for many reasons, one of which is having told a lie. If you ask someone where they were, for example, and they don’t want to tell you but don’t want to lie, avoidance becomes the next best option. This also comes out as changing the subject. You have to be careful with this. There are reasons people need to avoid deception before the subject. I avoid talking politics with my family, not because I’m lying but because I want to avoid an argument.


RELATED: How To Instantly Tell If Someone Is Lying To You

4. Misplaced anger

If someone is lying to you, and you ask questions that threaten to expose that lie, anger is a likely response. Let’s say you ask your spouse why they worked so late. Talking about it calmly (and probably with some venting about being too busy or some jerk of a boss) is normal if your spouse is being honest. The question becomes threatening if asked, and your spouse isn’t at work. Threatening because an honest answer might derail the relationship. When people are asked threatening questions, anger that seems out of place is not an uncommon response. You might be met with an aggravated “Why don’t you believe me?” or “What are you trying to say?”

5. Easy recollection of non-memorable events

This usually happens when someone wants to distance themselves from an incident. Let’s say I’m interviewing someone suspected of a crime that occurred on a random Wednesday evening three weeks prior. I would be skeptical if they immediately told me they went on a walk in the woods that evening. Why? Because most people don’t remember what they did yesterday, let alone weeks ago. Unless you have a routine that you perform, it’s unusual to have details ready for mundane past events.

6. A lack of appropriate anger

If you accused me of stealing something, I’d be pretty upset — or at least a bit frustrated. Why? Because I don’t steal, and I would find that insulting. That’s a very normal human reaction. The lack of reaction to being accused of something can be a sign of deception. The person being accused isn’t angry because they know you’re right. They may deny it, but there is zero feeling associated with it besides fear of being found out.


RELATED: The Different Types Of Basic Human Emotions, Explained

7. Your gut tells you they're lying 

You can’t hang your hat on this in police work, but it’s helpful in your personal life. You usually have a feeling about someone’s character, and when that feeling isn’t good, we sometimes rationalize it away. Listen to your gut. Be alone with your thoughts and figure out why you feel like you do. Weigh that person’s character and look for any reason they might have for being deceptive.



If someone is deceiving you, these seven signs may stack upon each other. The more of them I see, the more weight I give to the idea that I’m being lied to.


Even if we are the ones being lied to, we may be the innocent victim. Our attitude and personality traits can contribute to being lied to. What does that mean? If people know I react negatively to the truth or lash out, I dramatically increase the likelihood of being lied to. People wish to avoid conflict.

On the other hand, if I’m calm, respectful, and understanding, I foster the trust that allows the other person to be honest without fear. In that case, lying becomes far less desirable. Being calm and rational incentivizes honesty. We can also perpetuate dishonesty just by tolerating it. If someone lies to you and you let it stand, it dramatically increases the odds that the behavior will occur again. Not tolerating lying might be addressing it one time, and making your feelings known. It might mean exiting the relationship. How you address it is up to you.

Now that you’ve peeked behind the curtain of lie detection, are you ready to test these signs? The next time you believe someone is being less than truthful, observe their behavior with these signs in mind. But remember, the most significant challenge may not be uncovering the lies of others but confronting our own.


RELATED: 7 Subtle-But-Noticeable Signs Someone's Lying To You

Joshua Mason is a former police detective and public safety leader turned writer. His weekly stories on Medium are dedicated to change, leadership, and life lessons.