How to spot and deal with a liar

There are many reasons a person might lie, from the little white ones to the convulsive to the pathological. What are the signs to look out for? And how do you deal with a liar?

Types of lies

You look...interesting

Asking a friend an opinion when you require honest feedback is not always the best bet. Generally with friendships you will be able to read each other well enough to know a) what sort of response is required (honest or white lie) b) your friend well enough to recognise a lie.

Don’t shout at me!

We learn to lie to and manipulate figures of authority from a very early age because as humans we want to avoid conflict with power. This is a defence mechanism; maybe the truth would genuinely hurt those involved, or get the liar into trouble.

Not just a river in Egypt

At times the possibility of hurt is so great and probable that we engage in acts of emotional denial to protect ourselves from experiencing a pain we are not yet ready to bear. This form of psychological self-protection is rough and ready but it’s a common human reaction.

Don’t believe the hype

Pathological liars are so brazen and comfortable that it seems silly not to believe them. This type of liar believes their own lies too and for this very reason can be difficult to spot.

How to spot a liar

Body Language

An excellent liar is hard to spot. This sort of person is aware of their body language, and will do everything possible to suppress it. But pay close attention:

  • Stilling. In an attempt to suppress body language a liar will become incredibly still when talking.
  • Micro-expressions. The shoulders may rise briefly; a tiny shrug meaning the same as a big shrug “I don’t know”, completely at odds with the words spoken. If a person is a getting pleasure out of fooling people the corners of their mouth may rise into a very brief smile.
  • Verbal tells. A liar may describe in too much detail everything that happened around the event, but not the event itself.

Deal with it

Is it worth it: Assess how important it is to your relationship. Understand that you don’t have the power to change a person’s behaviour and that an intervention is an emotionally exhausting process.

Prove it: Document the lies, so you’re not going off a hunch.

Private: Don’t out a liar in public, the embarrassment and possibly aggression. It is important to remain calm and sensitive during a confrontation.

Explanations: Give them the opportunity to explain. In turn explain to them that the trust has been damaged.

Understanding: At this point you may get a clearer picture of why the person lies, is it a one off or is it compulsive? If the relationship is important it may be possible to build trust again.

Help: Once understanding has been established it may be necessary to seek support.

However: To pathological liars and sociopathic personalities lying is a part of their personality makeup, understanding and support may be all you can offer.