Some researchers suggest that the average person lies three times every ten minutes in conversation but for all we know, that could be a lie.
I find it a fascinating subject to explore mostly because so few people are honest about their lying and the discussion tends to create an emotional response (can we be honest about our lying?). Everyone has an opinion on it. Ask ten people whether or not they lie and nine will tell you they never do.
A Lie By Another Name
We all lie but typically we rationalise our dishonesty with some pseudo-noble-sounding reason. We give our lies nicer-sounding names to appease our conscience. By the way, I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't fib on occasion. In fact, I'm all for it. Sometimes, it's what the situation requires.
"Wow Janine, your (ugly) baby is totally gorgeous. He looks like a lizard an angel."
"Yes Mikey, of course Santa's real. It's your dad that's a total fraud. "
"Wow, your arse looks monstrous tiny in those jeans."
"Yes Sally, Goldie is worm food up in Dog Heaven."
If telling someone the truth will hurt them and lead to a negative outcome, personally, I'm happy to lie. Or, preferably, avoid the issue altogether. Shocking, I know. If me being totally honest will more-than-likely serve a positive purpose (and I believe the recipient can handle it), then I'm happy to smash them with the honesty stick.
A Time To Lie?
An acquaintance recently showed me her new (six year-old) luxury car that, in my opinion, she had paid way too much money for. No, she doesn't read this site. I hope. I know a little about cars and without doubt she paid at least ten thousand dollars more than she should have.
And, based on the age of the car, I have every reason to doubt the kilometre reading on the odometer. I'm sure she was totally scammed.
Now, if she had come to see me before the purchase, I would have told her what I really thought. However, in that moment (standing by the new car), in the middle of all her happiness and excitement, my opinion would not have helped on any level.
So, I made an on-the-spot judgment call and I feigned excitement, happiness and a little jealousy. She was happy with my seemingly-appropriate response and I didn't burst her bubble. I did, however, suggest that next time she goes car hunting to call me first.
Of course we lie but being the self-righteous and flawless creatures that we are, we have created a range of pseudonyms for our lying in order to make ourselves feel better about our effortless and prolific bullshitting.
We call our lies exaggerating. Bending the truth. Protecting people's feelings. Joking. And don't forget the ever-popular and sweet-sounding white lie. Of course, we all know that white lies aren't really lies don't we? After all, if there's one thing that makes a lie real or not, it's gotta be the colour.
Good grief. Where do we get this shit from? We can rationalise anything when we really want to. And I'm okay with all of that - after all, I have a PhD in bullshitting myself (another lie) - but let's not pretend that exaggerating isn't lying. It is. As is bending the truth. It's either truth or it's not.
The only relevant percentage with truth is one hundred. If I'm giving somebody a ninety-percent version of the truth, I'm lying. We all tell ourselves stories to make ourselves feel better about what we do and don't do.
One of those stories is "I never lie".
Can Anyone Smell Smoke?
Unless you've been living in a Disney movie all your life, you would know that people lie to you every single day. Some lies are big: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."
And some lies are small: "Yes, Honey, I'm just about to turn the television off and do the dishes." The only thing you can rely on is the fact that you can't rely on people to tell you the truth.
So, wouldn't it be great if you could get a little more clued-up and savvy about the fibs that other people tell you? If you had your own in-built Pinocchio detector? It might just save you some tears, tantrums and disappointment, right?
Can You Handle the Truth?
Before you read on, remember that if you can't handle the truth, don't ask for it. It's not really fair to ask your partner "Does my butt look big in this" and then pounce on them like the Spanish Inquisition when they try to be kind (ie: lie like a pig in mud).
There might also be some things which are simply none of your business. Your friend might tell you that she did 'nothing much' last night because she doesn't want you to know that she was: a) immersed in a ten litre tub of icecream b) arguing with her husband c) doing, um, other stuff with her husband. Jumping up and down screaming 'You LIED!' will probably get you on a fast train to Lonelyville. Besides, do you really want to hear about your friend's penchant for dressing up as a cowgirl and... thought not.
Also, don't mistake signs of nervousness for signs of lying. Some people are so shy that they perspire and look evasive even when they're just buying milk at the corner shop. Thankfully, in most cases you'll be familiar with a person's normal demeanor so you'll be able to detect his or her 'lying signs' quite accurately.
Lie Detection for Beginners, Trusting people
The 'experts' have written volumes about the many and varied signs of lying. However, unless you're applying for a job with the FBI, CIA, MI5, FSB or any other serious-sounding acronym, the following summary should be pretty much all you need to know.
You'll notice that the person's words are not actually mentioned here. That's because (apart from dubious claims, internal inconsistencies and irrational arguments ) a person's words are often the least accurate indication of whether or not they are lying. Rather than listening to what they are saying, look at how they are saying it.
Makes sense? Good.
(Someone you know lying? Give them a Karma Ticket!)
The Five Signs of Lying:
1. What his body does
The person who is lying (let's call him or her Pinocchio because THE LIAR sounds a little harsh) will restrict the movements of his body. He will freeze a little like a deer in the headlights and all his concentration will be dedicated to concealing the truth. Pinocchio may touch his nose or block his face or mouth with his hands, perhaps subconsciously trying to prevent the truth from coming out. He may also attempt to protect himself from your scrutiny by placing objects in front of himself eg: coffee cups, paper, large buildings...
2. What his face does
A forced smile (to cover evasiveness or duplicity) only involves the mouth whereas a genuine, relaxed smile involves the whole face. You'll know the difference when you start looking out for it. Also, the nervousness created by lying may cause the liar's mouth to be dry so you might notice that he licks his lips a lot. Very attractive.
3. The eyes
Most people realise how much information and emotion are revealed through their eyes so they will be very reluctant to make eye-contact when they are lying. If you watch a small child who is obviously lying, you'll see that we humans learn this at a very young age. Smart, huh? And kinda sneaky too. Also, the associated nervousness may cause dry eyes so excessive blinking may also be apparent.
4. Signs of nervousness
Unless you're dealing with a psychopath (lucky you), Pinocchio will find the lying experience quite uncomfortable. This is either because he believes it's wrong to lie (maybe he believes in Jesus, kharma or another thou-shalt-not-bullshit belief systems) or he is afraid of the consequences of being found out - (as he probably should be). The external signs of discomfort or nervousness could be sweating (yuck), fidgeting or a sudden need to excuse himself to visit the little liars' room.
5. How he says it
The way in which Pinocchio speaks will reveal a lot about the lack of truth in what he is saying. A rise in pitch - sudden squeakiness - is your cue to examine his story and his demeanor a little more skeptically. Also, remember that Pinocchio is probably making up the story as he goes along so he won't be able to talk at a normal pace. He may speak more slowly and pause frequently as his mind desperately constructs plausible explanations. Again, you may need to compare this to his normal speaking pace (we all talk at different speeds) so you might want to steer the conversation onto a topic that he has no need to lie about (eg the weather) and then back to the lying topic to provide a contrast.
Lie To Me
So, I'm guessing you're just dying to go and find yourself a liar, aren't you? Knew it. Don't go buying a used car just to try it out but do keep these points up your sleeve until you need them. They just might save you from believing, "That looks great on you," "This car has never been in an accident' or "This has never happened before".
Love to hear your thoughts. No really. I mean it.
- Craig Harper is one of Australia's leading self help authors. Self Help Books - Craig Harper