No Disrespect But…To Be Honest…

A lot of people like to think they know other people, that they’re adept at detecting deception and above being fooled.  I always cringe when people recite that drivel about how people’s eyes move “up and to the right” for the truth and “down and to the left” for a lie, or whatever they say it is.  I remember very clearly when I was in college, one of my psychology professors telling the class that this was patently false.  Directionality of gaze was not so much the issue; rather a person averting their gaze in general, or being unable to look someone else in the eyes, could signify deception.

Then again, it could signify a lot of things; distraction, feelings of inadequacy or shyness, feelings of guilt (unrelated to lying.)  Plus, anyone who’s ever been done dirty by a spouse or best friend could probably tell you it’s completely possible for a person to look you square in the eyes and lie to your face.

Of course, I’m digressing, as usual.  The point is, a lot of the so-called clues to detecting when someone is lying to you, seem, in my opinion, vague and unable to be extrapolated to the majority of people with enough accuracy to be conclusive.  That may read like a mouthful, but all I really mean is that these “tells” don’t occur with enough consistency or reliability to be useful in most situations.  There are too many variables, and unless you are the type of person who likes to take chances with your relationships, you don’t want to accuse someone you care about of lying unless you’re damn sure.

Perfect example;  I’ve seen it mentioned before that people who qualify their statements with remarks like “To tell you the truth,” “Frankly,” and “To be honest,” are actually unconsciously cuing you to the fact that they are about to lie to you.

Am I the only person, then, that regularly uses those expressions…and then proceeds to do exactly that– tell the truth?  I can’t speak for everyone, but when I use that phrase, it usually means that what I’m about to tell you will either seem A) surprising/unexpected coming from me, or B) that what I am about to say is going to be the truth, but perhaps an unpleasant truth.  

Anyway, I’m definitely not disputing that there are often physiological and physical signs present when a person is lying.  However, I think these signs need to be taken in context.  The fact that lie detector tests are not considered reliable or accurate enough to be used in court should be at least some indication that many of these signs of deception are not consistent enough between subjects to be 100% reliable.  I would guess that some indicators are also more accurate than others.  For instance, involuntary reactions like pupil dilation and micro-expressions would likely be a more reliable indicator of deception than a turn of phrase, such as “To tell the truth,” the use of which is subjective depending on the speaker.  (For instance, perhaps that phrase was used frequently throughout the speaker’s childhood by his mother, and thus is a learned mannerism and has no bearing on deception.)

I’m sure there are people out there like Dr. Cal Lightman in Lie to Me* (I think they’re called poker players)and I have great admiration for people with that skill set.  But I doubt there are many of us regular Joes that can do what Cal does.  I’d wager that individually, how effective each of us is as a human lie detector will depend, in one part, on how much we know our subject, and in another part, how observant and aware we are of other people in general.


Tangential to that topic, I’ve heard it said that people who preface their opinions with “No offense intended,” “No disrespect,” or some similar sentiment, are in fact, about to insult you.

This is another blanket statement with which I disagree.  It may be true that a lot of people use this phrase as a passive aggressive way to take a jab at someone, but–and again, I’ll only speak for myself here– when I say “No disrespect,” it is often when I know my opinion is directly contradictory to the other persons’s, or when there seems to be no way to stand behind my point without seeming combative.  It’s been my experience that some people become almost automatically defensive and even hostile when confronted with an opinion that is very different from their own.  Some people take it as a personal affront.  If you don’t believe me, scroll through your Facebook wall.  I’m sure you’ll eventually find at least one ridiculously hostile argument over politics, religion, sports, or something even less significant.

Anyway, as usual, I’ve sort of taken a short post and gotten way too analytical about it.  Thanks for bearing with me and my rambling.

And if  you don’t like it, No disrespect, But to be Honest...fuck you.  (Just kidding…sort of.)

8 responses to “No Disrespect But…To Be Honest…

  1. During our management class in college, one thing we discussed was the way our eyes moved and what it could mean. They were pretty sure we could use it in our daily jobs. But I’m not really watching eyes when I’m working. Let alone I already forgot what it means when they look up and left. xD

  2. Never heard of lie to me, it sounds interesting. Like my ‘hero’ Derren Brown, I presume, he is a master of the small tells? I’m pretty sure that I use ‘to be honest’ for the same reasons you do. I’m a SHIT liar so it’s really hard for me to conceive of a way that could be used facetiously!

    One of the Irish expressions that makes me laugh is ‘and that’s not giving you a short answer.’ Um, what? Couldn’t you just leave it at ‘I don’t know and I’ll have to get back to you on that’? Which they have already said before the short answer line. Weird.

    • It’s definitely one of those “tells” that really just depends on the person. I’d imagine the “short answer” line was originally used to assure someone that you weren’t evading a question by giving a short, noncommital answer when you really possessed more knowledge. And like the other phrases, how it’s used really depends on the experiences of the person using it.

  3. I think the science (art?) of lie-detection is pretty fascinating. I tend to think I’m pretty good at picking up on dishonesty (and other things), but it’s not through visual cues. I listen to what people have to say and think critically about it. I don’t mean that I’m a suspicious person by any means, but I sometimes catch inconsistencies in things people tell me. 99% of the time I say nothing about it. Most of the people I associate with are pretty honest people, and most times if they’re being dishonest, it’s about something personal that they’d rather not share, and I can get behind that in a big way.

    Talking about “visual cues”–one thing I have a tendency to do when I’m thinking about something is to place my finger across my lips, just under my nose. Supposedly, this is a signal that you don’t believe what a speaker is saying. Even though that’s not at all true for me, I have to be careful not to do that in certain situations.

    • That pretty much supports my point that some tells are too subjective…or in some cases, like the direction of the eyes, ridiculously specific.

      As for your friends, yeah, most of us like to surround ourselves with people we trust, but even then, I suppose there are times we can’t help but interact with less trustworthy people (even in casual interactions) or even when a loved one might lie to us. Whether it’s a so-called white lie to protect themselves or spare our feelings, or a more serious deception, to cover up some wrong-doing, we may have to face a time where we need to discern whether or not they’re lying. AT that time, I doubt SOME of the so-called signs of deception would be all that helpful.

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