10 Verbal and Non-Verbal Signs to Spot a Liar at Work

“You work with a bunch of liars – who lie for a bunch of reasons,” shared Business Coach Carol Kinsey Goman in a recent Mastery in Communication Initiative workshop at the Stanford GSB. People lie to cover things up, to enhance certain qualities about themselves, to get out of things they don’t want to do, and more.  You can watch her full talk, but in case you don’t have time - below is a summary of the 10 possible verbal and nonverbal signs that someone is lying in the workplace.

1. Selective wording
Someone might be lying if he or she doesn’t actually answer your question. For example, you might ask an interviewee, “Did you leave your last workplace under good conditions?” If the person responds, “I left to pursue things that were more in line with my skills and talents,” you should take note that he or she skirted around your true question.

2. Quasi-denials
Listen for instances when people back out of statements before actually saying them, like “I could be wrong but…”.

3. Qualifiers
Another possible sign of deception could be using qualifying phrases like “To the best of my knowledge…”.

4. Softeners
When innocent people are questioned about a possible theft or crime, they tend to use “hard” words like “steal” or “forge.” But if they are guilty, people soften their diction using words like “borrow” or “mistake.”

5. Overly formal wording
Liars might use phrases that add distance, like formal titles Mr. or Mrs. You might also hear them speak in full phrases like “did not” versus informal contraction “didn’t.”  

1. Stress signals
When people lie, their heart rate goes up, blood pressure goes up and breathing gets shallow. Much of detecting lies is actually detecting stress. You won’t know if people are lying just by the fact that they are playing with their jewelry or bouncing their feet, but you’ll know that something is up.

2. Deviation from the “truth baseline”
Before an official job interview, you might invite candidates for coffee so you can observe their gestures and the pitch of their voices as they answer easy questions like, “How did you hear about this job?” Look for a baseline of truthful answer behaviors and then take note of any changes during further questioning. 

3. “Telltale Four”
Look for clusters of verbal and nonverbal signs. If you’re interviewing someone and notice stress signs, put an asterisk by that question and return to the subject later. If you get the stressed reactions a second time, the person may be holding something back. 

4. Eye signals
The biggest myth around deception is that liars don’t look you in the eye. Because liars have heard this, they may overcompensate and look at you too directly. There is, however, a correlation between lying and blink rate. As a lie is constructed and told, the liar’s blink rate goes down. After the lie is told, the blink rate will increase up to eight times. 

5. Emotional incongruence
Sometimes you just have a gut feeling that something is off, like catching someone with a phony smile. A liar can look incredibly fearful that he or she will be caught, but be careful because truthful people can also look fearful that you won’t believe them. 


Natalie White is a Digital Associate at Stanford GSB. She helps manage and develop content for Stanford GSB social media platforms. You can also find her on Instagram and Twitter at @nataliemwhite.