The Many Ways You Can Spot a Liar in the Workplace

If you have spent any time in management or HR, you know this to be true: dealing with liars is simply part of what you do.

It’s not a pleasant part of the job, mind you, because no one likes to deal with deception, but just about everyone who supervises people in the workplace deals with a litany of lies, both large and small, every single day.

People concoct all sorts of deceptions in the office, from fibbing when they haven’t even started (much less finished) that pending report, to co-workers lying to cover up an inappropriate office romance.

Problem is, it’s not always easy to separate honesty from deception, and that’s why this Forbes story titled (appropriately enough) 12 Ways to Spot a Liar at Work jumped out at me, because who doesn’t want a handy-dandy formula for figuring out those in your office who aren’t giving it to you straight?

Here’s the key to all this, as author Carol Kinsey Gorman puts it:

In business dealings, the best way to understand someone’s baseline behavior is to observe her over an extended period of time. Note her speech tone, gestures, blinking patterns, etc. Once you’ve assessed what is “normal” for a co-worker, you will be able to detect shifts, when her body language is “out of character.” Just remember (and this is key), that the atypical signals you detect may be signs of lying — or a state of heightened anxiety caused by many other factors.”

I won’t go into the entire list of the 12 things she identifies here (you need to read the full post to get all of that), but some of them may sound familiar:

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  • A fake smile;
  • An unusual response time;
  • Foot movements;
  • Face touching; and,
  • Changes in gestures.

Reading these tell-tale indicators of lying that she lists, it reminds me of  that great scene from the Quentin Tarantino-scripted movie True Romancewhere Christopher Walken, playing a Mafia Don, tells Dennis Hopper’s character that he can tell he’s lying because he can recognize “the 17 different things a guy can can do when they lie to give themselves away.” (Warning: the strong language and violent content in the movie clip below may be offensive to some.)

These are all great tips of course, but Forbes author Carol Kinsley Gorman also gives us this George Costanza-sized caveat about recognizing workplace liars as well, and it’s important to keep in mind if you ever decide to try to put these 12 tips to work with your staff:

If a person really believes the lie, there is no way that can detect that falsehood. But, unless you are dealing with a pathological liar or a superb actor, I know you can become better at spotting those who try to deceive you!”

To read 12 Ways to Spot a Liar at Work, click here.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


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