Marc Salem

Learn How to Read People and Detect Lies

There are three basic mind tool areas in learning how to read people and detect lies. They are:

» 1 Attention (observation)--The visual tool:

Watching closely for the ingredients of a lie. How to recognize facial expression, body language and gestures.

» 2 Concentration (communicate/listen)--The listening tool:

How to listen effectively for what goes unheard. Developing a system for picking up vocal tones, sudden changes, unconscious sounds, word choices, and silences.

» 3 Translation (Interpret/Intuition)--The consistency tool:

How to compare and assess what you have seen and heard. If the two don't match, you look may for some degree of deception. Finding inconsistency is the challenge, recognizing it as important is the task.


Normally we see only what we want to see. Our selective attention severely limits reaching our full observatory potential. Let me demonstrate. Imagine a penny, a 1 cent piece, in your mind. You have handled one thousands of times. Now, which way does Lincoln's profile face? Now take one out of your pocket and have a look. Chances are pretty good that you were wrong. Our range of observation is wide, but it almost always depends on our need to know. Which way Lincoln's face faces is pretty low on our need to know list.

The secret of using observation as the powerful tool it is to train yourself. That's right, you can indeed teach yourself to see with new eyes every day--often in a situation where someone might want to tell a lie, and you want to detect it.

Just as you can enhance your physical health with regular exercise, you can sharpen your powers of observation. For starters, watch people while they're talking. practice studying people in conversation everywhere -- at work, at a party, in a restaurant, on a plane or in the park. What you are looking for are the variations possible in different mannerisms or silent signals. You may even experiment watching television with the sound off (actually not a bad idea to do all the time).

How many kinds of smiles do you see, and how would you evaluate them. how about frowns, smirks, finger pointing, dry coughs, and toe tapping. while I will provide a full gamut of silent signals below, you must put in the work of noticing and cataloging them. Does the computer salesperson appear confident about his merchandise. Does his pitch convey any doubts. If he's good, it won't. He wants to send out only the signals that will make you buy. Observe mannerisms and try to assess the situation. What is he doing and why.

Soon you will become a collector of mannerisms, and quite frankly it's not only easy, but there is a considerable amount of stimulating entertainment in putting the overt behavior of others under the scrutiny of your own private magnifying glass. As a side benefit you also become more sensitive to those around you.

Several well-known criminal lawyers have developed this skill for use in situations where even the slightest edge gives them an advantage. Police, therapists, teachers, clergy, and CEOs of the Fortune 500 have all attended my programs often with the specific purpose of sensitizing themselves to the actions of others. Actors and politicians (often unfortunately one and the same) have also taken advantage of this knowledge.

Gradually your increased observational abilities will pay off. In a week you will be considerably more observant than you are today. After two weeks you'll be alert to nuances that seem elusive now.

In a month, with little effort, you'll be an observational super(wo)man. You will be able to pick up each of the mannerisms sent almost constantly, both by friends and strangers. that's it for your mastery of the first tool in spotting deception. Have fun.


How many variations can you observe of each signal listed below.

Facial Expressions

» smile
» stare
» frown
» raised eyebrows
» smirk
» closing eyes
» laugh
» rapid blinking
» sneer
» startled look
» breaking eye contact
» worried look
» squint
» face losing color
» open mouth
» tight lips
» wetting lips
» grinding teeth


» nod
» head shake
» touch
» hand wave
» wring hands
» covering eyes
» covering mouth
» showing palms
» making fist
» pointing finger
» scratching head
» rubbing face
» cracking knuckles
» picking lint
» steeple gesture
» tapping fingers
» twisting ring
» rubbing nose

Body Display

» head bowing down
» head turning away
» heavy gulp
» heavy gulp
» rapid breathing
» dry cough
» nervous tic
» shoulder shrugging
» arm folding
» body slumping
» leaning back
» leaning forward
» leg crossing and recrossing
» toe tapping

There you have the most common signals. There's nothing inviolate about my list. If you observe a stray signal that interests you, just add it to the list.


How often do you listen in an average day? Certainly more than you speak, but much less than you think you do. Listening is not merely hearing. It is an active approach, an attitude, a way in which you relate to the world. To be good at it you must make it a part of the way you live.

Focused listening, like observation takes a bit of practice. Force yourself to summarize what you hear and how it is being said. How are words being used, what is being emphasized, what does it sound like?

It is not the tone or sound itself that matters, but again it is the context. Tone becomes important only when it¹s inconsistent--discordant, jarring to the ears.

An automobile engine rattles before gaining power, the computer grinds upon start up. A baby cries for a brief moment in the night. A stairway creaks in an empty house. These sounds are inconsistent. And it usually matters enough to listen more closely.

When someone is talking, if you hear an inconsistent sound, listen more closely.

Vocal tones vary from person to person, but each individually usually speaks with a steady tone. What becomes significant is the moment when the steadiness varies, creating a tonal distortion, if only for a split second. Prolong distortions are easy to hear like screaming, sobbing, high-pitched hysteria -- and their reason is usually obvious.

Momentary changes are what you should concentrate on here--the brief distortion that serves as a signal.

Here is what to listen for:

A rise or fall in pitch or register, especially if it is quickly corrected. When a voice changes from low to high and then back to low, something is probably wrong with what is being said.

Changing rate or rhythm of speaking, as when someone interjects a brief staccato burst of words into an otherwise steady monologue, or changes his or her usual conversational rhythm and sustains the change. If a gruff person becomes gentle, or a bubbly type becomes withdrawn its a signal that calls for decoding. Indeed, any change in rate or rhythm is worth pondering.

Force, the strength applied to a single word or phrase. Force can convey more meaning than the speaker intends, because emphasis is usually unconscious.

Cracking voice, when there is no physiological reason for it (like teens) people¹s voices tend to crack because they are afraid or excited--aroused in some manner, either pleasurably or unpleasurably. Telling a lie can be one cause, but not the only one.

Translate (intuition)

Rather than deal with this as a totally separate catagory I have tried to make integrate the importance of context in the previous to sections. Lie detection is not a science, but rather an art with equal amounts of skill, intuition, and wisdom mixed in.

Avoid making rote judgements. Signals carry more or less weight depending on circumstance. If someone has a chest cold for example, the significance of a cough is diminished. Don't ignore qualifying conditions. Evaluate them.


The Silent Language by Edward Hall
The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne
The Relaxation Response By Herb Benson
The Mind by Bill Moyers
Kinesics and Context by Ray Birdwhistle
Telling Lies. by Paul Ekman
Ekman, P. & Friesen, W. V. (1974). Detecting deception from the body or face. Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology, 29(3), 288-298.


(For more information about mankind's nonverbals, read Edward Hall's classic The Silent Language, Anchor Books, 1973.)

Copyright © 2008 Marc Salem. All rights reserved.