Q: How can I become better at detecting liars?

A: I have been asked many times to address again people's top "tells" that indicate they are lying or being insincere.  Reading people is such an important survival skill that I thought an update was due.  Recent research from Dr. Alan R. Hirsch, MD, a neurologist, psychiatrist, and author of How to Tell if Your Teenager is Lying and What to Do about It, provides clear behaviors that you can watch out for in any of your personal interactions.  Another expert is Tonya Reiman, author of The Power of Body Language.

Unfortunately, reading people is not an exact science. For example, someone might be shaking his leg because he's nervous, insincere or lying-but he can also be shaking his leg because the leg has fallen asleep! 

Yet, even though there may be other logical explanations for a certain behavior, it's still a wise idea to develop a People Reading Detector. It's better to note the behavior than to dismiss it. You can always review your observations later to test their accuracy.   

Don't expect to be a super sleuth overnight-or to be right every time. There are good liars and fakers in life! You will need to evaluate the validity of the "tells" to see if they fit other aspects of the person you are observing. When in doubt, keep observing, take your time in the relationship, and don't reveal too much about yourself, lend money, go into business, hop into bed, marry or move in with the person too soon-or ever! Here are some more top tips about detecting lying and insincerity in people.

1.  Hands. Hands are one of the most important body parts to watch. Luckily, you usually have a good view of a person's hands and fingers. Here are some gestures to observe:

  • Fidgety hands. Fidgeting is often a sign of nervousness, but your People Reading Detector must assess why.  What is the person talking about when his or hands fidget? For example, is he/she talking about an upcoming job interview? Or is the person telling you about how successful he/she is and how much he/she likes you?    
  • Strumming fingers. Watch out for this "tell." This person is bored, impatient, and probably not as interested in you as he is in him or herself.
  • Running fingers up and down a glass. Look for this move. He/she has sex on the brain. Do you? Is this how you want the evening to end? If not, don't put yourself in compromising positions by going back to his or her place.
  • Interlaced fingers. Lying requires either a too-closed up body--or the too-loose body of people such as slick used car salesmen!  Entwined fingers signal that someone is withholding something.
  • Touches. Touching can signal closeness, but it can also signal control and insincerity. If your partner or someone you know well touches you, that person is usually reaching out to you or comforting you. But when a new date or boss, for example, touches you, that gesture could be saying, "I'm in charge here, you are nothing, and I am more important." Be wary of men who guide women by touching them ever so gently in the small of the woman's back.  This touch is not courtly or caring. Rather, it is a sign of dominance and of wanting to turn women into "the little lady" whom they can control.

2. Body. Movements in the upper torso can signal many things-good and bad. Your expert analysis will examine the difference. 

  • Space. For example, amongst friends and family, there is usually less space between people. However, with colleagues or new people, there is at least a foot to a foot and a half of acceptable space between these unrelated people. When someone leans into your space, he/she might be confiding something important to you, but the narrowing of the space just might signal lying and control. It as if the body is saying, "I'm going to tell you what I want you to believe. I matter, you don't."
  • Position changes. People who switch positions or alternately move closer and away from you are literally "shifty."  Of course, you want to rule out that the chair is uncomfortable!

3. Legs. Pay attention to the motion of legs.

  • Shaky legs. Legs that kick and bounce up and down can signal nervousness and disinterest.
  • Frequent under the table kicks. Tables are tight in restaurants-especially those romantic, intimate ones. Getting kicked once is an accident. Frequent kicks can signal disregard for you.

4. Face. The face has so many expressive muscles that you could get lost in understanding key movements. Focus on a few.

  • Blinking eyes. Police know to watch out for this motion since it usually signals lying.
  • Looking away. Truthful and caring people want to look at you. Looking away can be a sign of disinterest or avoidance of a topic.
  • Staring or gazing too much at you. On the other hand, serial killers often seem to have no problem maintaining eye contact. But don't be fooled. We all move our eyes when we think about or feel something. "Eye-locks" may be a signal that the person is hiding something.
  • Smiling too much-or too little. The mouth is a highly expressive group of muscles and tissue.  There are lots of nerve endings in the lips-and it's a good thing there are-otherwise kissing wouldn't be such a wonderful activity!  But lots of smiling can be an indicator of lying and discomfort. Tight lips can signal cruelty, repressed rage or lying.

Luckily for you, the "tells" are most often involuntary and can't easily be controlled by the person.  Develop trust in your instincts.  Keep asking yourself:  Do the person's words match the body language?  How do I feel about this person and our interactions in the moment?  Later?

Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, ED.D., MSS is a noted psychologist and lic. clinical social worker, specializing in relationships.  For her book about women and love, she welcomes women to take her 17-20 minute online research survey at www.lovevictory.com. Also on her website, if you donate $5 to Habitat for Humanity-Sarasota, Florida, you can receive a download of her relationship advice cartoon book for women, "The Love Adventures of Almost Smart Cookie."