One of the things I love about book stores and libraries, is that you come across books you would never search for deliberately. I was in the library last week and saw two books on a fascinating topic: how to tell if people are lying.

Maybe you’ve seen the TV series Lie to Me, which focuses on ‘micro expressions’ as a way of telling if people are lying. It turns out: there’s a lot more where that came from, and it’s based on actual research. And experience. One of the books I read was written by three former CIA operatives who has massive experience in determining if people were lying, even without a polygraph. They did an analysis of an interview with Jerry Sandusky for instance and concluded he was lying, even before he confessed, based on his body language and the way he answered or evaded the questions.

As youth pastors and youth workers, we constantly work with people. Sadly, we encounter many people who are not telling the truth, or who are hiding something. To better protect our students, our leaders, our youth ministry, and ourselves, it helps if we know what to look for to determine if people are telling the truth.


Obviously, I can’t do these books justice in just a short blog post, but I wanted to share a list with tell-tale signs that people may be lying. May be lying mind you, not are lying – because context is king, and you’ll need to get them to open up to make sure what is true and what is not. The method described in one of the books is this: look for clues that occur within five seconds of asking a question, and look for a ‘cluster’ of signs. That means you need more than one to determine if someone is lying, and they need to appear shortly after asking a question.

Here are some signs to look for that indicate people may be lying:

  • changed breathing pattern, especially from deep relaxed breaths to superficial upper body breathing
  • blushing, reddening, darkening of skin
  • sweat, especially in the face
  • rigid and stiff posture, unnatural stillness instead of natural unconscious small movements
  • fidgeting
  • shrugging when answering
  • jerking back, even minimally
  • bowed head
  • touching the neck, or mouth
  • scratching, especially in the neck or in the face
  • gulping or swallowing visibly
  • words and body language don’t match, for instance saying ‘yes’ but subtly shaking no
  • ‘grooming’, for instance playing with hair, brushing off pants or skirt
  • finger pointing (‘righteous indignation’)
  • no eye contact, looking down, or staring someone down
  • rapid blinking
  • licking lips (‘cotton mouth’ – the tension when you lie causes you to have a dry mouth)
  • fake smile that doesn’t reach the eyes, or a fake laughter that is too short and too high pitched
  • obvious change from normal speaking pattern, eg suddenly speaking much faster, or slower, higher, or lower, louder, or softer
  • giving too much information, going off on tangents
  • deflecting or blame shifting
  • minimizing or making excuses
  • invoking religion (‘I swear upon the Bible’)
  • using words that reference honesty (truthfully, to be honest, honestly, to tell you the truth…)
  • repeating the question (this gives you time to think of a lie)
  • evasive answers, absence of an explicit denial
  • attack mode, attacking the person who asks the question
  • inconsistencies in the answers or the story
  • detached speech, talking about yourself in the second or third person

I hope this list helps you to be alerted when someone may not be telling the truth. In which case the best approach is not t become aggressive, or go in attack mode yourself, but to calmly keep asking open questions to get to the truth.

(This list is based on two books. Spy the Lie is a fascinating book written by three former CIA operatives. Filled with stories from their experience and from famous people (OJ Simpson, Jerry Sandusky), it’s a fast and entertaining read. The other book is The Body Language of Liars, which was solid in its info, but badly written and structured and highly repetitive.)