What are the signs someone’s lying to you over the phone? When you take away the face-to-face element of a conversation, it might feel tricky to separate truth from dishonesty. Fortunately, whether the other person is your partner, friend, or a total stranger, you can catch a liar by listening in for key cues and patterns in the way they speak. We’ve put together a list of science-backed signs of lying to help you catch a liar over the phone and get the truth.This article is based on an interview with our professional dating coach, John Keegan, founder of The Awakened Lifestyle. Check out the full interview here.
People’s throat muscles get tight when they’re nervous.
If a liar is feeling under pressure, they’re more likely to clear their throat as a way to relieve muscle tension. You might also notice their voice sounds a little creaky or is cracking more than usual.
- Just keep in mind, throat clearing could also be the result of regular nerves or stress, especially if you two are having a tense conversation.
A high-pitched or loud voice
A high-pitched voice is another sign of stress (and potential dishonesty).
Liars tend to sound higher-pitched due to all the stressful tension that builds up in their throat. Compare the other person’s voice to how they usually sound if you know them well. If you don’t know them well, look out for an excessively loud voice, which can mean that someone is trying really hard to sound assertive and convincing.
Pauses and hesitation
When people tell complex lies, they have to take time to think up a story.
As a result, they’ll hesitate before answering questions, and they might pause in the middle of a fake explanation. Is the potential liar taking a while before they answer your question? Are they speaking slower than normal?
- A complex lie involves having to make up a big explanation about why something happened or describe a series of events.
- A simple lie (that won’t cause liars to hesitate as much) could involve lying about what someone looked like or the food someone ate.
- Conversations between two cooperating people tend to fall into a comfortable rhythm. Trust your gut if you feel like someone is taking just one or two beats too long to respond—they might be lying!
Filler words like “um” and “well”
Liars are more likely to feel the need to fill pauses.
Think of filler words as the vocal equivalent of fidgeting—most people do it, but people rely more on fillers when they’re nervous. A liar might use fillers to stall as they take a moment to collect their thoughts and figure out their next move. Since the average speaker uses 5 filler words per minute, try and count the number of times filler words slip out from your potential liar. See how their “um” count compares.
- Filler words also include: “so,” “you know,” “ah,” and “like.”
- Just remember that some people naturally use filler words more than other people. Keep that in mind when you compare their “um” count to the average.
Phrases like “I guess” and “maybe”
Look for hedging, indirect language.
Some people talk with a lot of uncertainty so they can avoid blatantly lying. It’s their way to avoid taking responsibility for giving false information.
- Pay attention to someone’s overuse of conditional words like “could have,” “might have been,” “should have” instead of straightforward words like “can,” “was,” and “did.”
- For instance, a statement like, “Well, I guess I just forgot Jamie and I had made plans” sounds less honest than “I forgot Jamie and I had made plans.”
Liars use a “keep it simple” strategy when they answer questions.
Honest people have nothing to hide, so they tend to use more detail. Pay attention to whether the potential liar seems comfortable using people’s names, describing activities, and giving timelines. A liar might even get so vague they avoid using personal pronouns like “I” or “me.”
- For instance, if you ask your partner, “What were you doing Friday night?” and they respond “We went out,” that’s a suspiciously short answer.
- If someone at work says, “Most of the shipments got approved,” but they can’t estimate the number of approved shipments or tell you when they did it, that person might not be telling the truth.
Trust your gut if the other person’s behavior feels a little weird.
Someone who’s lying might tweak their personality to seem more trustworthy. In particular, a liar might have an overly upbeat, positive attitude. As part of their attempt to sound honest, liars tend not to use as many negative words.
- If your friend is usually talkative, but you notice they seem shut down and uncommunicative, something could be up.
- If a family member normally talks in a relaxed tone, but they suddenly start using formal language with you, they could be lying.
Liars often get upset or go on the attack when they feel caught.
Does the person on the phone seem calm, or are they pushing back at you when you ask them questions? If the person adamantly denies statements and seems just a little too insistent that they’re telling the truth, they might be trying to trick you. Here are a few examples of ways a liar might get defensive:
- They might act victimized. For instance, they might say something like, “You always bring up these wild accusations about what I’m up to after work!”
- They might insist you’re being too sensitive. Watch out for people who say things like, “You’re just being paranoid.”
- They might minimize or rationalize their bad behavior. For example, a lying manager might say, “I didn’t give you credit for closing that sale because it was a team effort, and you wouldn’t have been able to do it without our new software.”
Changing the subject
Liars might try to end the conversation or buy time with a phrase like “I’ll get back to you.”
If you catch the other person trying to jump to a new topic or making excuses to go do something else, that’s usually not trustworthy behavior. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Is the other person really busy? Or are they hiding something? To keep the other person on-topic, say something like:
- “Could we stick to this conversation? I’d really like to understand where you’re coming from.”
- “I’ve been wanting to talk about this for a while, could we address this now?”
- “I feel pretty stressed about this. Can we come up with a solution?”
Laughing off issues
Relying on humor can signal nervousness or avoidance.
Pay close attention to any sarcastic or joking answers the other person gives you. If they’re taking the topic too lightly, they might be minimizing their part in the situation to avoid taking responsibility for the lie.
- The best way to deal with sarcasm is to ignore it and respond with an earnest statement.
- If someone laughs off what you’re saying, you can say, “I know it seems like a weird topic to bring up, but I really would like some answers.”
Dodging “yes” or “no” questions
Ask simple questions to force a liar to give you a direct response.
When someone can’t respond with a simple yes or no, they’re probably trying to weasel their way out of answering the question. That’s a telltale sign they’re being dishonest! Additionally, if the other person tries to turn the question back on you or they make you feel bad for asking, that’s another sign they’re probably lying.
- For instance, if you think your boyfriend is cheating on you, you could ask, “Were you with Marissa on Friday night?”
- If you’re concerned a friend is lying to you about excluding you, say something like, “Are you and the group going to the movies on Saturday?”
Communication issues behind the lie
Some people might lie because they feel like they can’t tell you the truth.
Take the high road and ask questions to understand the other person’s perspective. Even though it’s tempting to think of a liar as a bad person, that’s probably not the case! Use a calm, patient tone as you ask the other person to explain how they see the situation. It’s possible they lied because they don’t feel comfortable expressing themselves freely with you. You can improve your communication and get to the bottom of the lie with these questions:
- “I’m feeling a disconnect in what we’re telling each other. Where do you think that’s coming from?”
- “Can you explain what happened on Friday when you left early? The texts you sent me felt pretty angry, even though you’ve said everything’s fine.”
- “Hey, I noticed your timecard doesn’t quite seem right. Could you tell me a little bit about what’s been going on?”