How to tell when someone is lying: Tips from former CIA officers

Why do people lie?

Well, according to three former CIA officers, Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero, co-authors of ‘Get the Truth: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Persuade Anyone To Tell All’, the three biggest reasons are:

1 Fearing the negative consequences of disclosing the truthi.e. concealing information out of a fear of what will happen if that information is revealed. This type of lie often involves an act of wrongdoing that the person wants to hide

2 Wanting others to believe something about you that isn’t truei.e as a way of enhancing a positive image that others may have of them

3 Wanting to avoid hurting someone’s feelings

So, how do you spot a lie? The five tell-tale signs (according to Kathy Caprino, who interviewed them for Forbes magazine,, look out for:

Evasion: i.e. ‘linguistic concealment’, like failing to answer a question

2 Persuasion: i.e. where someone tries to convince you of something else, instead of conveying the information that you are asking for

Manipulation: i.e. where they try to disrupt your game plan, say by failing to answer a simple question

4 Aggression: This type of behaviour is typically exhibited by someone who feels cornered. Maybe by attacking your credibility or lashing out to get you to back off

5 Reaction: Here the behaviour, such as hand-to-face activity, is automatically triggered by someone’s nervous system. Like when a question creates a spike in anxiety.

So what’s key?

Look out for a cluster, i.e. a combination of at least two of these tell-tale signs. The signs can be verbal or non-verbal.

If the first tell-tale sign occurs within five seconds of the stimulus (i.e. your question), ‘you can reliably conclude that the behaviour was triggered by it’. So now you know.

Next week: The CIA’s nine ‘tried and tested’ methods for getting the truth out of anyone. Happily, none require a ‘Don’t try this at home’ warning.

Separately, I am giving a series of training workshops, starting on 21st May with ‘Settling Intractable Disputes Successfully & Getting Clients What They Want’ For further details or if you would like me to come in and organise a bespoke session, just let me know.