Spotting the lies in written communication

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In today’s world more and more communication is in a written form than in the past. Messaging systems (SMS, WhatsApp, Telegram, emails, and so on) are more frequent than before when at least a phone call could have allowed understanding by the tone of voice the trustworthiness of who is speaking.

When you meet a person face to face then, you could guess (with very low reliability indeed) if they are lying to you, but it’s a lot more difficult online. The more you maintain communication through written forms, the more important it is to sharpen your lies-detection skills.

Of course, there are a few tricks you can learn to spot lies in the current “digital” world. People are born to tell the truth naturally, but life, people, influencers and situations teach everybody to tell lies: heavier and lighter ones (“say hello to the grandparents”, “give a kiss to your uncle”, “be kind”, and so on). This is also good news because if people are born to tell the truth, it is easily seen – knowing some tricks – how they will unconsciously drop hints.

The top five signs of a lie

Here are the five common ways people lie through written communication.

Emphatic language

When people lie, they really, want you to believe what they’re saying. Emphatic and repetitious language is the first red flag. When they repeat the same things but in different ways, continuously, this is an alert. They repeat because it is important to them and they are trying to persuade you, otherwise they wouldn’t repeat.

Pushing away

Watch out when people take distance from you or the situation s/he is talking about. Taking distance in written form is like crossing arms or place objects in between during a face to face conversation. How to spot this “crossing arms” in written communication? Watch out when no personal pronouns are found in the text  is a good example: If you write “Hey I had a great time last night, did you?” A liar may reply with: “Last night was fun”. No pronouns, aseptic empathy.

Noncommittal language

If you’re having a hard time understanding what happened in that business deal or an office situation, that’s a hot warning sign. People who are telling the truth aren’t vague. A few telltale signs include “probably,” “pretty sure,” “maybe,” “must have,” and more. All those words revealing a tentative to let a door open in your mind. The same thing goes for unanswered questions. If someone beat around the bush a direct question and changes the subject, it could mean he either doesn’t want to hurt your feelings or is hiding something from you.

Qualifying statements

Sentences like “I hate to tell you this” or “to be honest” or “there is nothing to worry about” or “there’s no problem” should make you ring the bell. What’s the reason to write (or even tell) such things if the person is really honest or almost tells the truth? In fact, these words imply that the writer is uncomfortable with what is saying. Directly ask them what’s really going on.

Tense jumping

Tense jumping, like switching between the past and present tenses identifies a clue. If you are talking about argumentation in the past, it should all be in the past tense. But if the story suddenly jumps in the present tense, then it could be a sign of just built up lies.


These tricks must be used almost together because not one sign only can reveal a lie. If a person doesn’t answer a direct question, it could just mean that they missed it. If he’s pushing you away it could mean they are inattentive or lazy. When they are also tense jumping and putting together noncommittal sentences while dissociating themselves from the story, you are reading a lie. Make sure you’re keeping track of all inconsistencies and ask follow-up questions: maybe their nose will grow huge, so you can make wood for the winter.

In case you’d like to share opinions, or going deep into a topic, write to me an email to: contactme [at] enricocarollo [dot] com or write your sharing in the comments below: that space is yours!

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