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Special Agent Technique: How To Tell If Someone Is Lying

As an agent you are lied to on a daily basis. Additionally, as an undercover agent I often had to lie. Because of this I had to learn how to determine if someone was lying to me and also how to mask my lie while undercover.

I remember once I had this military member who was turned in for breaking into local public schools and stealing whatever he could. I was a rather new agent and I brought the guy in and interrogated him for about an hour before going to a senior agent working the case with me and telling him, “look, this guy is innocent. We should cut him loose.”

The senior agent had been watching from the observation room and he said, “Derek, give me a minute.”

He went into the room for about 5 minutes, came out and then said, “all right, you can go in and take his confession now.”

I was shocked and embarrassed. This guy had lied to me for over an hour and I had no clue. My more experienced partner recognized the clues he saw and heard from the observation room and broke this guy in minutes.

Knowing how to recognize these clues is a great skill to have, both for an agent, and for you when dealing with people on a daily basis.

Detecting liars is often part of the job for special agents and we often look to facial expressions, body language, and verbal indicators as signals, or “tells,” that someone is lying to us.

There are a number of facial expressions and associated reactions that could indicate someone is lying to you. This is often caused by nervousness, or by chemical reactions or physical reactions that the person will have a hard time hiding from you.

To start, it would be good to know how the person you are talking to normally acts. But sometimes in conversation you are just meeting the person and know their actions, so you have to do the best you can.

It’s best to observe someone for a while as you make small talk or ask innocuous questions, in order to see what his usual reactions are. Then if he exhibits several lying indicators when you ask more pointed or suggestive questions you can be confident that he’s likely lying to you.

Here are some of the facial expressions and actions I suggest you look out for:

1. Eyes moving back and forth

Sometimes I would interview a “perp” and he would move his eyes back and forth when I was talking to him.

This is a physiological reaction to him feeling uncomfortable or trapped by my questions when he does not what want to answer them.

This stems from when people had to seek an escape route when they feared they were in a dangerous situation, such as facing a human or animal adversary.

It is a dead giveaway for lying. Just like the dangerous situation, he is trying to get out.

2. Rapid blinking

Usually a person blinks about five or six times a minute. However, when a person is stressed from lying, he might blink five or six times very rapidly.

In relation to this, when a person closes his eyes for a second or two after telling you a lie, this may indicate he’s just lied to you, since this is a type of defense mechanism.

3. Looking up to the right

Here is one of my favorite giveaways that I often look for. If I am interviewing a right handed witness and I ask about something he’s supposed to have seen, if he looks upward and to his left, he’s truly accessing his memory of the incident.
However, if he looks upward and to his right, he’s accessing his imagination, and he’s inventing an answer.

You see the left side of your brain is the side where we recall information and the right side is the creative side. Left-handed people will usually have just the opposite reactions.

4. Looking directly to the right

If I ask a person what he has heard, his eyes will shift toward his left ear to recollect the sound he heard, but if his eyes shift toward his right, he’s about to tell you a lie.

5. Looking down to the right

If a person is going to tell you his memory of a smell or touch or sensation, his eyes will shift downward and to his left. However, if his eyes shift down and to his right, he’s lying

6. Touching his face

Believe it or not, there is a chemical reaction that causes people’s faces to itch when they lie. Look for this!

7. Pursed lips

If a guy is telling you a lie, his mouth will often become very dry. In order to overcome this, he might do a sucking motion, pursing his lips, so this is another indication of lying.

If his lips are so tightened that they appear pinched and white, then he is probably lying.

8. Excessive sweating

If you are talking to a person and sweat appears on his forehead, cheeks, or back of the neck, he might be lying (of course it could just be hot outside or in the room.)

He will probably try to wipe it away. This is just another indicator that you can watch for along with everything else.

9. Blushing

Blushing is another indicator of a person lying to you.

It is an involuntary reflex caused by sympathetic nervous system (this activates your fight-or-flight response) and is a response to the release of adrenaline, which may be released if he is lying.

10. Head shaking

If I am interviewing or talking to a person and he is telling me the truth, he will nod his head simultaneously in agreement with what he is saying. However, if he starts shaking his head in disagreement with what he said, his body is giving away his lie

So I have given you 10 things to look for to tell if a person is lying. Of course it is not 100% perfect, but it is what we learned as agents and it gives you a good indication, especially when the person is doing more than one of these things.

Practice these techniques so you can recognize them easily, but don’t give away your secrets because the person will try to hide his actions if he knows what you are doing.

Click Here For More Instruction From Derek Smith

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38 thoughts on “Special Agent Technique: How To Tell If Someone Is Lying”

  1. Embarrassment about answering the question(s) has the same reactions as described. Especially if it is a secret truth. Remember there are not any absolutes, except maybe, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute Power corrupts absolutely.”

  2. That’s it! I am getting a divorce! My wife has been lying to me for the past 18 years!

    Thanks, this information is priceless!

  3. This was very educating and I’m a firm believer that you can never have to much knowledge.
    Knowledge is power and your mind can be one of the most powerful weapons you can have
    Thank you Melanie

  4. Thank you very much, SFA, retired police, attorney general organized crime task force. Many academies and endless schools. These techniques were in some of them and books I read as well. I’ve used these and others in interview and interigation situations …….a lot

  5. Mostly good stuff but I do believe and experience tells me that you have your right and left muxed up. Also each of our eyes is controlled be the opposite sphere of our brain so, if we look one direction don’t know if that means that we are using that side of the brain.

  6. Hello there, You’ve done an incredible job. I’ll definitely digg it and personally suggest to my friends.
    I am confident they will be benefited from this

  7. that would only work for the most part if you are skilled and really know what you are looking for .. however you have these people out there now a days that are so hooked on drugs and they dont in general have the same kind of reactions… so how do you really know? that is the question. In the city/town I live in there are quite a few homeless people that are always asking for money .. however do you judge them by just being homeless… I would hope not …however if you think or believe that they want the money to get more drugs .. and I dont ever want to contribute to drug use ever … how do you tell? these tips were great I didnt know about the looking to the left and that is how your brain is recalling memory.. so that was helpful.. the other tips I pretty much knew but you do get these crafty people out there that still get the lie’s past you .

  8. Not to dispute any of this, it seems to me that the same expressions could easily depict shyness or natural nervousness. I’ve known several people who rarely looked a person in the eye while talking to the person. That is supposed to mean that the person is lying. However, the people to whom I refer are highly moral professional in the fields of law, education, and others. Going by the rules in this article, I’m not sure how much faith I could put in my ability to discern a lie from the truth.

  9. Love this information but a video demonstration of HOW a person is shaking their head would give a better description( second half of #10)

  10. Apreciate this brief familiar primer. If the person does not particularly care if the lies are discovered, or is adept at lying, they may be of little use.

  11. Good little article. Looking to the Right or Left … I had not heard of those cues to right brain / left brain … very interesting.

  12. Thanks very much for these tips. Adds more tools to the box, so to speak.
    Also, thanks for all the products related to TRS/ fightfast. Ya’ll do a great job oreparing us for whats ahead. Don

  13. That was very interesting information. I wish I knew about this when my ex was cheating on me. But after 29yrs you know a person well enough to know with out saying anything.

  14. watch a politician when they are trying to tell you that they are here to help, or doing the best that they can with working a situation out in the favor of the public.

  15. Great items to keep in mind when asking anyone a question that you would like a honest answer to your question. Keep up the great work & as always, don’t let them try to get the upper hand on you, although you are a very good person who rely on the information that you have just given as a certain way to tell that someone may be telling the truth or not, just because they can. Thanks, Sharon

  16. Very interesting, wish you had more. I know I can,t lie because I can,t look another person in their eyes and I get flushed. I also get very nervous when lying, which I seldom do. I usually lie not to hurt a persons feelings. I really hate to lie so when someone asks me my opinion I always say I,m not PC so ask someone else. When they insist, I tell the truth and they get mad. I,m not a very good poker player either. I think you have to have a great memory to lie and get away with it. It,s really easier to tell the truth, you don,t have to memorize anything. Thanks, it was fun.