There are telltale signs of lying: looking away while speaking, fidgeting, changes in voice, sweating and breaking eye contact. The best liars, however, don’t show any of these signs. They can lie while looking you right in the eye. They can tell tiny lies or huge lies and it doesn’t matter to them. They are great actors, storytellers and mimics.
So how are great liars so believable?
What Makes a Great Liar
Great liars are a mix of natural talents — like acting and high intelligence — and lots of practice. A great liar doesn’t leave any easy-to-spot tracks. They don’t raise suspicion in the people they lie to, cheat and con and they don’t feel remorse about what they do. Lying is, literally, as easy as breathing for them. There are several traits every great liar has inside them:
They Don’t Get Pleasure From Lying
Most people experience a strange thrill with lying. Standard-grade liars feel a twinge of exhilaration when we lie. We got away with it! This excitement can have physical effects: your heart races a little bit, your voice cracks. But an expert liar doesn’t experience any pleasure from telling a fib, no matter how small nor serious the lie.
Maybe they lack the brain chemistry to experience that emotion or, more likely, they’ve trained themselves to squash those feelings because they leave dangerous tells. Pleasure isn’t the only feeling they suppress: guilt, fear, anxiety are all surgically removed from a master liar’s heart. This is one reason they can slip through actual lie detector machines.
They are Smart, and Have Excellent Memories
“A man may go forward in life with lies, but never backwards” is an old Russian proverb that clearly doesn’t deter master liars. The best con artists are incredibly smart and able to remember the smallest details. They know all of the lies they’ve told in the past, and they know how the lies they’ll tell in the future will layer into those old lies. Like a spider, they can’t get trapped in their own web.
They are also quick thinkers, especially the experienced liars. Through practice they learn how to weave a story in real-time. Trying to trick them up with a volley of quick questions won’t work against the best liars.
The Best Liars are Great Storytellers
Lying is storytelling, and the best liars are master storytellers. They can read their audience and color their lies to match their victim’s mood, beliefs and temper. Skilled liars know people are unlikely to look for a lie if they’re hearing a story they already agree with, or want to think is true. Not to mention, they’ve been lying for such a long time they’re also expert actors. Not only will they look you right in the eye and lie to you, but they’ll also smile, shake your hand and charm you. The best liars know to avoid all the typical behaviors that tip people off to lies.
How to Catch an Expert Liar
The best liars are hard to catch but you can be on the lookout for some of their tells.
- Watch for mimicry, especially if the liar doesn’t know you that well.
- Try to catch them up with changing details in a story. Great liars will pepper a story with details to make the lie more convincing, so when you think they’re lying, pay attention to things like the color of a car, how tall or short someone is, or the weather. Then ask them about the details later and see if they change.
- Pay attention to their stories when they’re talking to other people. This is especially helpful if you’ve already heard the story they are telling. They may change significant details to resonate with a different audience. This can be good storytelling, but it can also be the calling card of a good liar.
- Watch their body language when you confront them with the truth. If they are caught in a bold lie and don’t respond, you’re dealing with a remorseless, master liar. Most people will crack, if even a little.
Why are some people better at lying than others? Are some of us born that way, or is it the result of practice? That answer may lie the middle but the truth is, we may never know what makes someone a great liar. It is sad to think that all of the traits that let a person lie so well, could be used to tell great stories, to entertain and to make people happy. It can be hard to catch a great liar, but the answer is in the details.