Red Flags to Know If Someone Is Lying to You in an Email

In an age where technology is rapidly shaping the online world and how we communicate, and for many businesses that work exclusively through the virtual world, it is easy to wonder if the person on the other end of that text message or email is lying.

A recent study showed that an office worker receives on average 121 emails a day. That is a staggering amount of emails that could potentially contain a lie. It has also been said that we are lied to as many as 200 times per day, and that we can accurately detect only about 54% of those lies.

Yes. The majority of the population genuinely wants to tell the truth, which is why the limbic system in our brain will leak out clues when we tell a lie. Think of it this way: just like in the movie “Liar, Liar”, Jim Carrey’s character (Fletcher Reede) tried to trick himself that the “blue” pen in his office was red, but every time he would utter the word red, the truth would leak out that the pen was blue.

These clues that leak out are what we call red flags, and I am here to help you increase your detection radar. So, here are 5 Red Flags to help you instantly identify a liar from a truth-teller in email:

Red Flag #1 Lack of First-person Pronouns

It is known that when a person is being truthful, they will refer to themselves in first-person and subtly proclaim ownership of a statement. So when you are reading an email, look to see if the sender is verbally distancing themselves by using less frequent singular pronouns like “I”, “me”, or “my”. Verbal distancing is the same as nonverbal distancing– “standing back” from the lie that does not represent their true attitude or experience. Examples of these might look like:

  •  “Leaving the bank’s safe unlocked is not what a responsible person would do.”

Vs.

  •  “I left the safe in the bank unlocked”

Red Flag #2 Past Tensing

A deceptive person may refer to historical events from the past, in the present. The reason for this might be because the deceiver is making up the story from their imagination. Like in the 1994 case of Susan Smith, she used past tense words like “My children wanted me. They needed me. And know I can’t help them.” These keywords suggested to the investigator that Susan already knew that her kids were no longer alive. Many truth-tellers that believe their missing family member is alive, would use their words in the present tense.

Red Flag #3 Concrete Vs. Abstract

Because a liar is generating a story from their imagination, some of their cognitive resources are being used to create a believable story. This suggests a lower amount of cognitive complexity being used, which allows a liar to easily access concrete descriptions than abstract evaluations or judgements. This might look like:

  • “I walked to the store”

Vs.

  • “ Usually, I take bus #12 to work, but since it was a beautiful day, I decided to walk to the store”.

Red Flag #4 The Unanswered Question

Like I mentioned above, people generally don’t like to lie, so before their brain leaks the truth, they will generally ask a question within a question to talk about something unrelated. This is a common go-to method for people who want to dodge the truth. If you go back and watch Anthony Weiner’s first sex scandal, you find him many times deflecting the hard questions with another question or by changing the topic completely.

Red Flag #5 Swear Oathing

Another sign of deception is known as the “oath”. This is when a person will try to convince they are not guilty by adding in verbal expressions such as: “I swear”, “cross my heart…”, or “To be honest”. Truth-tellers are more confident in their words and feel that the facts will speak for themselves without having to back their statement up with a swearing oath.

If the email in question feels a bit off, circle back around and ask questions that can take the topic a bit deeper, this will help with any misunderstandings. Before you leave us, remember:

  1. Take everything that is being said/written into context
  2. And secondly, you must see a cluster of red flags before accusing someone.

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By Vanessa Van Edwards