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How to Tell if Someone is Lying: The 8 Sentence Structures They Use

How nice if you could have a bullshit detector, right? Well, these might not be foolproof, but the types of verbal statements below indicate that someone could be lying:

Ever wished you have the magical ability to spot a lie? Well, if you pay attention to what someone is saying, you could actually catch a clue or two.

Verbal cues of deception are pretty reliable indicators if someone is lying. There is a strong positive relationship between deception and vocal cues like speech errors, speech fillers, pauses, and voice tone. The more attentive a listener you are, the more effectively you can detect a lie.

This can come in useful when you can’t see a person’s face and need an honest answer. For example, when conducting an interview remotely over the phone. As an interviewer, you need to start off with neutral topics of conversation first to grasp the verbal speech pattern of the person on the other side of the phone.

As the interview progresses, you should be wary of repeated clusters of deviations from the baseline pattern. Typical deceptive indicators include:

  • speech stumbles
  • increased pauses between answers or sentences
  • filler words such as “umm,” “ahh,” and “uh huh” before responding to a question
  • stalling for time by answering a question with a question or by asking the speaker to repeat the question

In the case of an evasive answer, a useful technique may be to ask for clarification with direct “yes” or “no” questions. If the interviewee pauses before answering, continues to avoid giving a direct answer, or begins an answer with the word “well,” the probability of deception increases. Clusters of these verbal cues indicate an increased probability of deception, although all indicators are more likely to be relevant when compared with the subject’s verbal and nonverbal baseline.

The lie detection exercise would not be completed without analysis of statement structure. There are statement structures needed clearly indicate deception, these include:

  1. Parrot Statement
  2. Dodgeball statement
  3. Guilt-trip statement
  4. Protest statement
  5. Too little/ Too much statement
  6. Bolstering Statement
  7. Distancing Statement
  8. Euphemisms

1. Parrot Statement

If you ask a question and someone repeats it back to you, the person could be thinking about how to reply to you. With this parrot method, he would be able to steal more time to think of a response.

Example

Wife: “Where did you go last night when you didn’t come home?”

Husband: “Where did I go last night when I didn’t come home?… Well, I stayed in the office to finish up my report.”

Repeating the question in its entirety suggests that he doesn’t want to answer.

2. Dodgeball Statement

When people ignore or deflect your question, and throw a new one right back at you, it’s often an attempt to find out how much you know before volunteering an answer.

Example

Wife: “Where did you go last night when you didn’t come home?”

Husband: “Do I have to come up with an explanation for everything?” or “Are you suspecting me?”

3. Guilt-Trip Statement

A guilt-trip statement is an evasive tactic that tries to put you, the interrogator on the defensive.

Example

Wife: “Where did you go last night when you didn’t come home?”

Husband: “I am very sure you must think I have nothing to do at work. Women always think that if their husbands come home late, it’s a sign that they have another woman out there!”

By saying this, he hopes that his wife would abandon the question while defending himself or get caught in proving that she is not suspicious.

4. Protest Statement

This technique is used to put you on the defensive. A liar using a protest statement will respond to questions by reminding you that his track record is squeaky clean and nothing indicates that he is someone capable of deceit.

Wife: “Where did you go last night when you didn’t come home?”

Husband: “I went to many places. Look, I am a good father, I go to church, I donate. I do not understand why you are talking to me like a criminal!”

5. Too Much / Too Little Statement

Answering with too many or too little details is also a sign of deception. A person speaks less to avoid disclosing more information to others. Similarly, a person explains in detail in an attempt to confuse you.

Example 1 (Too little)

Wife: “Where did you go last night when you didn’t come home?”

Husband: “Office”

Example 2 (Too much)

Wife: “Where did you go last night when you didn’t come home?”

Husband: “It was a super busy day. You know my company provides four-foot-high cubicles so each employee can have privacy right? Yesterday, a co-worker had a fight over the phone with one of her teenage sons. After she hung up, she heaved a sigh and said, ‘no one ever listens to me,’. Immediately, several people from the surrounding cubicles called out saying, ‘yes, we do!’ Because of this, I had to test each of the cubicles to ensure privacy was intact. I started with the red cubicles followed by the blue ones, then I moved on to the purple ones… That was why I came back so late.”

6. Bolstering Statement

Liars always sound convincing and earnest, so they will often add emphatic phrases to their speech to reinforce their credibility.

Example

Wife: “Where did you go last night when you didn’t come home?”

Husband:

I swear to god, I stayed in company last night” or

I tell you the truth, I stayed in company last night” or

“I stayed in company last night, to be honest

There are two methods to use bolstering statements:

  • Qualifying phrase
    – “You’ll never believe this, I stayed in the office last night”
    – “As far as I’m concerned, I stayed in the office last night”
    – “As far as I recall, I stayed in the office last night”
  • Religious phrase
    – “Honest to God, I stayed in the office last night!”
    – “I swear on a stack of bibles, I stayed in the office last night!”

Honest people turn to their religious faith for personal support and comfort – not for public proof of their honesty. They usually do not feel the need to remind you that they are religious, because your opinion on the matter is irrelevant.

7. Distancing Statement

A person tries to minimise the value of something or impersonalises another person. A person could purposely avoid personal pronouns. Actually, he avoids any possessive language at all – it’s as though he wants to take himself entirely out of the conversation.

Example

Wife: “Where did you go last night? Did you have dinner with Nancy?”

Husband: “ No. You can talk to that lady of you want to clarify”

8. Euphemisms

It is a form of distancing language. When people know their actions will be met with criticism, they will choose words they use to describe that action very carefully. When confronted with a direct question, they could choose to use different terms.

Example

Wife: “Did you date the lady?”

Husband: “I didn’t date with anyone!” (Innocent)

Husband: “ I didn’t go out with anyone!” (Guilty)

You can observe that the emotion of denial replace the word “date” with the far gentler “go out” – a red flag that this is a lie.

While these aren’t absolute signs that someone has lied, you can use this knowledge on verbal cues when the situation calls for it. Happy spotting a lie! 

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Can you tell if someone is lying? Share with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

 

Edited by: The HealthWorks Team
Contributed by Dr. Leow Chee Seng
Leow Chee Seng (PhD) has published more than 50 articles and journals on attitude and behaviour. He is currently an adjunct Professor of an established university and Consultant Fellow of Putra Business School and Human Behaviour Academy (UK). He is the specialist of human attitude and behaviour, psychopathology, lie detection, nonverbal communication (body language), mental health and work productivity. His research focuses on human happiness, depression, obsessive compulsive disorders, stress management, behaviour modification and psychotherapy.

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