Seven Phrases that Scream, “I’m lying”
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The following seven phrases tell you that someone is lying over email, instant messaging, or text.
We’re all liars
Lying has a very promising future, because the more digital communication becomes, the less we’ll be able to get clues from the liar’s body language.
Is lying that bad?
Yes, but it is hard-wired into all of us. Just imagine what life would be like if people were 100% honest with each other all the time. There would be no tooth fairy, no eating chocolate cream pie, and 99% of romantic relationships would never have been initiated.
Let’s face it; we’re all liars. One study showed that 60% of people lied at least two times during a 10-minute conversation. We lie daily. And we lie so easily, most of the time we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
Recognize any of these?
- I don’t like confrontation.
- I don’t eat anything with high fructose corn syrup in it.
- My kids are usually well-behaved.
- I don’t follow reality TV.
- Yes, I recall you telling me that…but vaguely.
- I’m okay.
- I hate drama (translation: I love drama.)
- It was mutual.
- It was the best thing for everyone involved.
- I genuinely wish you the best.
- My 3 PM meeting is coming in. I have to run.
- I love her/him despite…
- It’s not that fattening.
- I figured I can always take it back later.
- I can keep a secret. Who am I going to tell, anyways?
- I don’t drink.
- I’m five minutes away.
- I would never think that about you!
- You can tell me anything.
It’s just ridiculous the things we say to each other.
Obvious communication blockers
If someone says this to you over email, instant messaging, or text, they are intentionally avoiding you:
- I don’t get cell service there.
- I tried to leave a voicemail, but your phone kicked me out.
- I didn’t have my phone with me.
- My phone died.
- My phone was off.
- The link didn’t work.
- I didn’t get the dial in.
- I didn’t get it – that’s so weird!
- My spam filter has been acting up lately.
- I’m on my last cell phone battery.
- I’ll call you right back (after the Pacers game is over).
- I wrote it in a draft but forgot to click “send.”
- I didn’t get the voicemail.
- I was on vacation and couldn’t access my messages (except for when my boyfriend emailed me).
- I owe you a phone call (which I never intend to return, by the way)
- I don’t check my email on the weekends (guess what – everyone checks their email all the time because it goes to their phone).
- I don’t check this email address anymore.
- My server gets blips sometimes.
- I didn’t know how to reach you.
- I don’t have his/her email address.
Don’t fall for it!
Seven subtle signs the person is lying
Lying over text, email, or instant messenger is harder to detect because the person gets to edit the lies. Watch for these signals.
1. Too much expression
A big giveaway is when someone expresses themselves too much to make a point. When somebody is overly emphatic, they are usually trying to compensate for some flaw in the story. Look for these clues.
Adjectives like literally, totally, completely, etc. are a red flag.
Example: I totally had no idea you couldn’t park in the boss’s space.
Example: There was literally an hour of traffic this morning.
If you see an exclamation point after a phrase beginning with “so,” you’re probably being lied to/patronized.
Example: You’re so right! It totally slipped my mind that I shouldn’t have sold those shares! (Playing dumb.)
Look out for exaggerated time measurements.
Example: I was so confused by your email, I spent three hours trying to figure it out. (Really? So it’s noon now, and you sat there from 9 AM until you decided to open your mouth and ask a question?)
2. Robust narrative
When someone is fabricating something over email, they usually write long sentences, maybe even paragraphs, to map out their logic. They are creating the narrative in their own head.
Look for run-on sentences that contain more than one independent clause in the initial lie. Then, once you ask them for clarification, the lie attempts become shorter as they tire from the effort. At that point they repeat the same detail over and over.
Other narrative clues:
- They offer multiple answers to the same question, or multiple reasons for doing something.
- They seem to be talking too much about one particular aspect of the narrative or repeating the same detail.
- They use words that sound overly officious or serious, often multisyllabic.
Me: Why did you skip our bus stop today?
Bus driver: When you called me to confirm the time, I was coming up the hill and it was taking me longer than usual because somebody had double parked on the top part of the hill. But by the time I had gotten up the hill I was running too late to text you and let you know I was there. My boss, Manny, says that all I have to do is wait for three minutes. I waited and when your kid wasn’t here, I had to leave because of the garbage truck and plus all the traffic was beeping behind me on the hill. It’s not my fault, I have to follow the policy, or else Manny gets mad. Plus, it’s the pandemic and a lot of people are sick.
Me: But you didn’t even stop the bus!
Bus driver: Manny says I have to wait two minutes. Two minutes I waited, and you weren’t there.
Me: Wait a minute - I thought you said three minutes? Did you wait for two minutes or three minutes, or not at all?
(You know how the rest went)
Example: I was quite intent on completing the required documentation, but I could not obtain access to the information that was necessary.
(Dang. Now all of a sudden you’re trying to sound smart like Janet Yellen?)
- Whatever it was
- At some point
- I think
- I’m not sure
The classic signs of lying.
Example: At some point I think we may have dropped it off, but I’m not sure.
4. Unnecessary use of transition phrases
When people lie over email, they tend to overuse transition phrases such as:
- As a result
- For that reason
They’re trying to fill in the blanks in their narrative because they are subconsciously trying to cover something up. In the example below, they would have said, “Umm” if it were a live conversation, but this is email, so they have time to edit and stuff in useless phrases to try to patch it up.
The firewall was blocking the site. Ummm. I couldn’t fill out the forms.
The firewall was blocking the site. As a result, I couldn’t out the forms.
5. Truth-claiming words
They want you to think they’re coming clean about something. Well, kinda. You’re probably only getting the half-truth here.
- Honestly, I did mail it in. (after the deadline)
- I quite frankly wasn’t in the mood to sit through the entire Zoom call (or even two seconds of it).
- I genuinely wish you well (despite how badly I’ve treated you).
6. Philosophical absolutes/rules
Overly philosophical, principle-touting language is often a shroud.
- If a person
I would never put anybody in a situation where you could potentially get audited (but, by the way, that’s what I ended up doing anyway.)
Oh, so you’re Socrates now? It’s quite an intriguing technique: Stating the theoretical rules you just broke, as if you didn’t just violate them. Don’t fall for this!
7. Unraveled contractions
When people decompose contractions into their component parts, they are placing emphasis on the negative word to exonerate themselves from not having done what they were supposed to.
I couldn’t log on because the portal wasn’t working.
I was unable to log on because the portal was not working.
Human beings are just brutal to each other. Don’t get played – use these screens, and when you catch someone in a lie, call them out for real.
Sara Grillo, CFA, is a marketing consultant who helps investment management, financial planning, and RIA firms fight the tendency to scatter meaningless clichés on their prospects and bore them as a result. Prior to launching her own firm, she was a financial advisor.
University of Massachusetts Amherst. (2002, June 10th). EurekAlert. UMass researcher finds most people lie in everyday conversation.