Believe it or not, lying is hard. Being made in the image of God, we seem designed to tell the truth–from our heart rate to our tone of voice, our bodies often show physical “tells” when we fabricate lies. In fact, when someone tries to deceive you, their own words will betray the truth.

Interrogation expert Mark McClish uses his technique of Statement Analysis to spot signs of deception in written statements or testimony. He finds this strategy effective because the words people choose reveal the truth.

“Every word has a meaning. When you combine this with the fact that people mean exactly what they say, it then becomes possible to determine if people are telling the truth. We just need to listen more closely.”

Mark gives following example from a job interview. Is this person being truthful or deceptive?

“You know, I am trying to be as honest as possible.”

At first glance, this appears to be a forthright, ordinary statement. But McClish points out three deception “red flags” in this one sentence:

  1. The subject starts off saying “you know.” He did not state “I am being honest.” He states “you know” but we do not know. We cannot believe he is being honest unless he tells us he is honest.
  2.  The subject goes on to say, “I am trying.” The word “trying” means “attempted,” “failed,” “didn’t do it.”  So he’s clearly telling us he is not being honest–only attempting to be honest.
  3. He ends his statement by saying that he is trying to be as honest “as possible.” The words “as possible” mean the subject has a limitation to his honesty. He can be honest up to a certain point.

These simple phrases all reveal a possible deception (and later in the interview, the subject admitted to withholding some information).

Unusual word order is another sign of potential deception:

“If someone says, “We had our downs and ups,” that’s unusual. Most people say “ups and downs.” This could indicate more downs (negative times) then the ups (positive) for example.”

Shifting verb tenses may also indicate a person is withholding or changing the facts:

“When people tell the truth about what happened, they’re using their memory. So they would use past tense–“I saw the attacker and he punched me.” If someone states “I see the attacker. He punches me,” that’s present tense, as though they’re making up the story like a scene in their mind.”

While one of these signals doesn’t necessarily mean a person is lying,  it’s a sign to be on guard and pay careful attention. The better we listen–and the better we know the ultimate Truth–the more likely we are to recognize anything less than the truth.

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.  Ephesians 4:25

Be not deceived: How better listening helps us detect lies - Mark McClish