How Can You Tell When Someone is Lying to You?

Patrick Keller of BBVA Compass  recently invited me to attend a conference  on nonverbal communication with Jan Hargrave.   I jumped at the chance to hear Ms. Hargrave since she is a well-known expert in the field.

It has long been known that actions speak louder than words.  In fact, we communicate as follows:

  • Words = 7%
  • Non-verbal communication = 55%
  • Voice inflection = 38%


It should come as no surprise that trial attorneys have a vested interest in better understanding how to assess a person’s truthfulness.  Most trial attorneys, like me, relish those career moments when they experience a Perry Mason moment and get a witness to admit the truth.

Here are a few good non-verbal clues you might want to look for:

Your lips say one thing but your right hand may say another.  Jurors and witnesses are regularly asked to raise their right hands and to, “solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth …” A professional nonverbal communication specialist can sometimes tell whether this oath will be honestly followed by observing how the jurors and witnesses raise their hands as follows:

  • Rigid hand – terrified that they will tell the whole truth when asked.
  • Curved hand- suggests that they are not committing and might lie.
  • Fingers apart and hand leaning backwards – they will lean over backwards to tell or find the truth.
  • Tight fingers – will tell the truth but you may have to pull it out of them.
  • Three middle fingers together with pinkie and thumb spaced apart – they are using both sides of their brain together, are both analytical and creative,  and are typically honest.


That guy might actually be in to you.  Many males will subconsciously pull up their socks when they make eye contact with someone they would like to get to know better. According to Ms. Hargrave, it is, perhaps, a male’s way of saying, “she really blows my socks off…”

Are you ignoring your spouse or just comfortable together?  Married couples who are secure in their relationships don’t need to have constant reassurance.  For example, did you ever observe a couple sitting side-by-side and see them merely touching shoulders, without talking to one another?  Compare that to a couple with an insecure relationship.  For example, did you ever observe a female who demands all of her mate’s attention by forcing constant eye contact, by crossing her legs towards him, and by leaning into him?  She may be sending signals to other women to stay away from her mate or she may be seeking reassurance that she really is desired by him.

People who lie or are “creative” in their stories tend to use their left hand while communicating.   The creative side of your brain is the right side.  The right side of your brain controls the left side of your body.  That means your left hand will often be used when you are being “creative” in your story telling.  (Note that this isn’t necessarily true if you are left-handed).

If you want to learn more about the behavioral science that is now being used by political figures, corporations, attorneys, and the military, you may want to visit for details on Jan Hargrave’s books and videos.

Jan Hargrave

Jan Hargrave

By Mary Ellis LaGarde