Personal Growth

10 Strategies for Detecting and Responding to Lying

Here’s the shocking news: We may not think of ourselves as liars, but we have all lied. Most of us lie just a little bit to make others feel better, simplify explanations by omitting details, or exaggerate to get a small reward such as admiration from our peers. Our own bending of the truth (lying) makes it difficult to spot and respond positively to more serious types of lying, such as compulsive lying.


Here are 10 strategies for detecting and responding to lying:

1. Love truth.

You may enjoy or unconsciously benefit from the way people shade the truth for you, but lie detection weakens as a result. If you want to know the whole truth and you learn to respond to people non-defensively, you will be better at recognizing what is true and what isn’t.

2. Forget body language – focus on the words.

While body language expresses genuine emotion, we often know so little about the reason for that emotion that body language becomes an unreliable approach to lie detection. For example, you may correctly discern that your colleague is stressed. However, do you know if they are stressed because they are lying to you, because you’re asking them questions, because they are busy and your conversation is taking too long, or because they just remembered they have to pick their child up from daycare in 20 minutes? You are better off focusing on the words the person says. After all, that is where the lie happens.

3. Tell them you value honesty.

As simple as it sounds, getting people to reflect on the value of honesty at the beginning of a conversation can prime them to be honest later.

4. Observe what happens when details are questioned.

When you casually ask someone who is comfortable with you about a detail that is inconsistent with their story, they will simply explain the inconsistency. A person caught in a lie will stumble over their words, particularly if they are not very good at lying.

5. Ask open-ended questions.

People who tend to lie are less likely to say, “I don’t know,” but instead offer an answer. Asking questions is an effective way to unmask lying. Come across as curious, not confrontational or suspicious, so they give you more information. Questions could be about:

  • Things you don’t know the answer to, but could research later
  • Things you know the answer to, but they don’t know that you know
  • Things both of you know the answer to, but you pretend you’ve forgotten the details
  • Their more fantastic stories
6. Don’t let on that you know they’re lying.

If you notice them saying something small that you know they did not do, do not let on that you know it is a fib. Continue to ask more questions and see if they embroider the story. If they do, this gives you something more substantial to ask them about later.

7. Watch for the evidence of patterns of dishonesty.

Lies from people who lie compulsively are particularly difficult to detect because they have vivid imaginations and believe their own lies. Frequently, the first hints that a person lies compulsively are that the person has many broken promises, failed relationships, or is unable to complete important tasks on time.

8. Research the big ones.

For potential lies that have serious consequences, such as those about work history or competence, connect with coworkers to compare stories. Look up all researchable facts. Even if they have been at your workplace for a long time, pull their resume and call the schools and past workplaces they listed. Check their references; you may find they’ve never been at the places they listed on their resume.

9. Do not call someone a liar.

No one wants to be called a liar. If you call someone a liar, they will respond defensively. Rather, note your version of the facts, what they have said, and ask them to help you make sense of the differences.

10. Change the relationship.

If someone continues to lie about matters of significance, be prepared to change or end the relationship. To paraphrase Nietzsche, the worst part about discovering a lie is not the lie itself, but the fact that the lie destroys trust in the liar.

In conclusion, be principled and empathetic.

In all cases, remember that most people do not set out to be bad or hurtful. Most don’t see themselves as liars, and most don’t want to damage their relationships. So, ask yourself what positive intent this person may have, and remember that you too have shaded the truth. Draw on these principles as you deal with lying and you will be off to a good start.


Mike Labun

Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Learning

Mike is co-author of ACHIEVE’s book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. This book is available on our website.

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