How to spot a liar at work

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Encountering a liar at work can cause all kinds of headaches.

Whether it’s the guy who comes into the office every Monday with the farfetched stories about his crazy weekend (“I met this model, right …”), the slimy vendor who misleads you into thinking you’re getting a deal on office supplies, or the lazy co-worker who constantly seems to be covering up one error or another, liars cause stress, tension and frustration for those around them.

Sometimes — like with your model-magnet colleague — the lies might be annoying, but relatively harmless (it’s probably more of a headache to dispute him on the facts than to just let him talk himself up). But other times, like if you think you’re being ripped off, or feel a co-worker is trying to cover up a mistake that will directly affect your own work, getting an honest answer is important.

To help you get an accurate read from your BS detector, we talked to Bill Rosenthal, chief executive of Communispond, an East Hampton, N.Y.-based communications coaching firm, about spotting a liar at work. Here’s what he had to say.

The Work Buzz: How can tell if someone is lying to you? What verbal/nonverbal cues should you look for?

Bill Rosenthal: Spotting a liar at work requires the same kind of observation that spotting a liar anywhere else does. Look for signs of discomfort, because most people feel guilty about lying. [These signs] can include avoiding eye contact, making excessive eye contact (which liars might do to “prove” they’re being honest), being in a hurry to end the conversation, even pointing their feet in the direction of a getaway. Look also to see if the person is being evasive when answering a question, perhaps by feigning inability to remember something that should easily be remembered. Still another sign is the use of suspect data or excessive data when answering a simple question. Of course, a promise that sounds too good to be true probably isn’t true.

TWB:  What should you do if you think someone is being dishonest?

BR:  It’s best to keep asking questions that are hard to answer. The liar might back off by reorienting what’s being said. Unless you’re sure, don’t accuse someone of telling a lie. It’s possible the person was misinformed about something and is repeating it with good intentions.

TWB: When is it best to just ignore a lie? 

BR: Sometimes [the lie] doesn’t matter. Telling someone “I caught a huge sailfish” or “I’m a gourmet cook” may not matter at all if it’s just small talk that isn’t intended to further a cause.

 TWB: How can you promote a culture of honesty in the workplace, either as a manager or as an employee?

BR: It isn’t enough to have a mission statement saying the organization values integrity; the organization has to live it. Managers can foster honesty by being open with information. If they have bad news to disclose, they should do it quickly and without sugar-coating the situation. They shouldn’t hold back on pointing out an employee’s weaknesses during review time to avoid hurting feelings; it’s a disservice to the employee.

Employees should be honest about errors they made. It’s better to admit having a problem than ignoring it because the problem can keep growing. Admitting there’s a problem can get the employee the help needed. Also, don’t take sole credit for the work of a committee. Give credit where it’s due. Don’t make promises that are hard to keep.

Do you have a lying colleague? What did you do about it? Let us know in the comments section.

For more on workplace dishonesty, check out:

Don’t be a Weiner at work


  1. So do companies, which are all most 98%, that LIE to employees and jobseekers. How about writing articles on “How to Spot Deceptive and Lieing Companies” Now that would help jobseekers tremendously in sifting out lousey employers. It goes both ways.

    • Linda, from the way you wrote your post, I don’t believe you are hirable. In just three sentences you’ve misspelled almost, lying and lousy. I’d be embarrassed to ever write anything if I were you.

          • Tonya, you are right about Linda; she shouldn’t apply for a job as a receptionist or an Administrative Assistant. She sounds like a great candidate for an upper management position..

              • you guys, leave linda alone. She has probably applied for hundreds of jobs with nary a call back or email reply. She is clearly a research specialist not an english teacher. and, while it is fun to make fun, just be grateful you can type your grade-A comments at the cushy job you possess at the moment

                • I will hire Linda! I am looking for nude hostess at my new joint. I bet she can smile “BIG” and it’s all that I am looking for. :)

      • Eddy! Eddy, Eddy, Eddy! There was a guy who was, famously, the world’s worst speller. He also got crappy grades in grammar. He had a good editor, one of his exwives. His name was Ernest Hemingway, even YOU may have heard of him. Thomas Alva Edison was dyslexic (and a wild child, YOU would have drugged him with Ritalin and turned him into half or less of the person he became).

        Clearly, Eddy, you have never been trusted with a managerial task or you would know that a good manager would almost certainly, given the choice of only these two examples, would almost certainly hire Linda over you. The last thing a manager wants on their team is a tumor like you, someone who clearly enjoys hurting people and will even pick on the most trivial matters to do so. Would YOU want YOU on your team?

        And, exactly characteristic of your ‘type’, you completely ignore the content of Linda’s observation to satisfy your need to bully. What she said in essence is that corporate doesn’t know a lie from the truth, it doesn’t care. It has one value, Greed. Take all, give nothing. However that is done matters not and lying as a matter of course is the least harm that corporate does. YOU are corporate, Eddy, looking for trivial flaws in others to use against them.

        Read history, Eddy. Corporate has deliberately lied, cheated, stolen from, and deliberayely allowed harm to come to its miniminally paid workers since corporations began in this country about two hundred years ago. Corporations favor and promote sociopaths, a sort of upward filter for amoral persons, no stress for them when they hurt and shatter people’s lives. Sociopathy is their main value. It resonates perfectly with corporate thinking. Voted for bush both times, didn’t you? ’nuff said…

        • I am part of the Upper Management and I would like to say I would take up a job for a lesser package with William in a heart beat. I am now working for someone like Eddy who kills people’s confidence and ownership attitude. Thankfully it is only for one more month as I am moving on and so are my people.

          • Good luck Tabitha and Linda cause I know what it is like to work for people that is that way and just wished they could do the things I’m capable of. These people do not have any room to be in management positions cause they got their noses so far up butts, that all they can smell is crap and want to pass the buck to make themselves look good no matter what the cost is even someone elses lively hood. I could go on with this some more but not enough room for liars, and brown nosers.

        • I too would like to work for William.

          I just quit a pharma company because they did have a toxic sociopath culture. One of their corporate statements: I am truthful.

          What a joke.

      • It’s pretty easy to sit in front of a monitor and mock others – it’s apparent Linda is feeling some frustration and it’s easy to get so emotional you don’t pay attention to the quality of what you are writing. Why be so quick to judge someone based on a few sentences?

        Linida I hope you find a job that fits for you. Good luck toyou

  2. Do you have a lying college? What did you do about it?

    How about this – the CEO believed a lie from a former boss not even affliated with my employer-and fired ME– without addressing or asking-of course-and I was labeled a liar by the CEO who appreciated the “tip/Scoop” – believing the lie. None of what the CEO was told is true–and I was fired being given a bogus reason for the firing. The employer’s lied under oath in an unemployment hearing-and that was discovered and I won my unemployment case-however-no one would hire me, I lost my home and everything I have ever worked for, ended up homeless.

    I hired an attorney who stole my money along with other clients (allegedly) and he is in jail. Have spent 6 months trying to find ANOTHER attorney, but they cost money and I have none (which the liars know and it amuses them). Lying at work starts at the top and I would honestly say that I have never found any employer/organinzation that tells the truth. Reality? Liars at work are valued more than those that tell the truth, because most employers are lying to regulatory agencies, labor boards, government officials etc.

    I would love to work with Bill at Communispond- I have a college degree, a strong work ethic, and I really don’t lie and am diplomatic when it is needed in telling hte truth at work. I would love to have a steady income and could have done very well without all the life destruction that the lies of others have cost me. I have formal training in communication, healthy work groups etc. etc. and I applaud anyone who is running a business that helps companies foster healthy work groups. But in the meantime, I still seek legal representation that will cost me money in the long run when I have none-in order to rectify the damages the lies have cost me.

  3. The article says you can spot a liar if they look you in the eye too much, or
    too little. What about people who are not comfortable being stared at? They may avoid eye contact. All in all, these non-verbal cues are just going to lead you as an observer with the wrong conclusions about people unless they are
    just terrilble liars who leave “obvious” non-verbal cues.

    I say you can spot a liar 100 pct of the time when you know the facts, and fact check what someone tells you if you suspect a lie.

  4. And what about the bullying boss who first tries to establish that you aren’t trustworthy and incompetent to the higher ups and then sets about building their case. They will ask you a ton of questions, a lot of socratic questions to try to paint you into a corner. When you start getting uncomfortable because you know they don’t trust you for whatever insecure nutso reason will that just reinforce that you are the liar and they aren’t the bully? My bully would have gone to the end of the world to prove that I was incompetent and a piece of trash in general.

  5. A few years ago a new employee caught me on the computer too long one evening ( we are both custodians). At the time I was suffering from depression and anxiety and was very tired from the complications from it. I was punished and the incident was put in my clean record. A few weeks later I caught the new employee taking an extended break on two occasions. My decision was not to report it. Due to the fact that all the new employee had to do was lie about it and I would be fired. I still want to report it, but I will have to wait until the Physical Plant Director retires. Both the new employee and the Physical Plant director are two peas in a pod. What would you do in this situation? Please let me know.

    • I believe it’s been too long since the incident occurred for you to report anything. If you don’t report it immediately then you appear as though you are trying to get back at the individual who reported you. If you do report the incident then you need to be absolutely certain you leave all emotions and perceptions out of the report and only discuss the facts. If you aren’t sure about something then simply state that and do not embellish what you saw. You are in a difficult situation, and I’m sorry this happened. Best of luck to you.

  6. I have an employee who will not admit to mistakes so tries to put the blame on other people. If I ask a yes or no question, I get the run around. Now, I stop the employee and say, I ask you yes or no. If she keeps going, I repeat I asked you yes or no. I do this three times, then I put my hand up, and tell them I do not want to hear anymore until I get a plain yes or no. It works.

    • If your employee continually does that, why is he/she still working for you? There are many honest people out there looking for jobs. Why keep a liar/blame shifter?

  7. I’m tired of so many articles about how to spot an employee lying, how to ace that interview etc. All of the culture today is employer right, employee wrong. Employee should be watched as they are suspect, employee should be audited, employee should be grateful, employee should sacrifice for employer. The reason I read this article was the sentence what to do if you know someone lies. I have a manager who lies all the time about every thing, even things that seem to make no sense. He therefore always assumes everyone else is lying and spends most of his time checking on people. He has the ear of upper management and even talked himself into a vice president title. Its frustrating to be so in need of work that we as employees have to grin and bear it.

    • There’s an old Native American saying, “We expect from others that which we are capable of ourselves.” Be wary of people who constantly accuse others of bad behavior, lying or anything.

  8. Do you know this man?

    Someone has posed an interesting question. He is one who graduated from Columbia in 1983, one year ahead of Mr. Obama. Funny thing, though, no one at the university has stepped forward to say, “I knew President Obama when we took the same courses in Columbia.”

    Obama: Where are your girl friends?????

    Where are his girl friends??? Strange that none have popped up!!!! Strange to the point of being downright WEIRD!

    OK, this is past the “birthers” questions…this is just plain old common sense, no political agendas for either side.

    Just common knowledge for citizens of a country, especially American citizens, who even know that Andrew Jackson’s wife smoked a corn cob pipe and was accused of adultery, or that Lincoln never went to school, or Kennedy wore a back brace, or Truman played the piano.

    We are known for our humanitarian interests and caring for our fellow man. We care, but none of us know one single humanizing fact about the history of our own president. Honestly, this is a personal thing…but it’s niggled at me for ages that no one who has ever dated him ever showed up. The simple fact of his charisma, which caused women to be drawn to him so obviously during his campaign, looks like some lady would not have missed the opportunity…

    We all know about JFK’s magnetism, McCain was no monk, Palin’s courtship and even her athletic prowess were probed. Biden aneurisms are no secret. Look at Cheney and Clinton–we all know about their heart problems. How could I have left out Wild Bill before or during the White House?

    Nope…not one lady has stepped up and said, “He was sooooo shy,” or “What a great dancer!”

    Now look at the rest of this….no classmates, not even the recorder for the Columbia class notes, ever heard of him. I just don’t know about this fellow. Who was the best man at his wedding? Start there. Then check groomsmen.

    Then get the footage of the graduation ceremony. Has anyone talked to the professors? It is odd that no one is bragging that they knew him or taught him or lived with him.

    When did he meet Michele, and how? Are there photos? Every president gives to the public all their photos, etc., for their library. What has he released? And who in hell voted for him to be the most popular man in 2010???? Does this make you wonder?

    Ever wonder why no one ever came forward from Obama’s past, saying they knew him, attended school with him, was his friend, etc.? Not one person has ever come forward from his past. VERY, VERY STRANGE… This should really be a cause for great concern. To those who voted for him, you may have elected an unqualified, inexperienced shadow man.

    Did you see a picture called The Manchurian Candidate? Let’s face it. As insigificant as we all are…someone whom we went to school with remembers our name or face…someone remembers we were the clown or the dork or the brain or the quiet one or the bully or something about us.

    George Stephanopoulos of ABC News said the same thing during the 2008 campaign. He questions why no one has acknowledged the president was in their classroom or ate in the same cafeteria or made impromptu speeches on capus. Stephanopoulos also was a classmate of Obama at Columbia–the class of 1984. He says he never had a single class with him. While he is such a great orator, why doesn’t anyone in Obama’s college class remember him?

    And why won’t he allow Columbia to release his records?


    Looking for evidence of Obama’s past, Fox News contacted 400 Columbia University students from the period when Obama claims to have been there, but none remembered him. For example, Wayne Allyn Root was, like Obama, a political science major at Columbia, who also graduated in 1983. In 2008, Root says of Obama, “I don’t know a single person at Columbia that knew him, and they all know me. I don’t have a classmate who ever knew Barack Obama at Columbia… EVER.Nobody recalls him.”

    Root adds that he was also, like Obama, “Class of ’83 political science, pre-law,” and says, “At the class reunion, our 20th reunion five years ago, who was asked to be the speaker of the class? me. No one ever heard of Barack! And five years ago, nobody even knew who he was. The guy who writes the class notes, who’s kind of the–as we say in New York–”the macha,” who knows everybody, has yet to find a person, a human who ever met him.

    Obama’s photograph does not appear in the school’s yearbook, and Obama consistently declines requests to talk about his years at Columbia, provide school records, or provide the name of any former classmates or friends while at Columbia… NOTE: Root graduated as valedictorian from his high school, Thornton-Donovan School, then graduated from Columbia University in 1983 as a political science major in the same class in which Barack Hussein Obama states he was.

    Some other interesting questions…. Why was Obama’s law lincense inactivated in 2002? Why was Michele’s law license inactivated by court order? It is circulating that according to the U.S. Census, there is only one Barack Obama, but 27 Social Security numbers and over 80 aliases.


    The Social Security number he uses now originated in Connencticut, where is never reported to have lived. No wonder all his records are sealed!

    Please continue sending this out to everyone. Somewhere, someone had to know him in school…before he “reorganized” Chicago and burst upon the scene at the 2004 Democratic Convention and made us swoon with his charm, poise, and speaking pizzazz.

    • you are the idiot who forwards emails to your friends and family, which they then sigh and delete. ever hear of check it, dummy.

    • Oh honestly, get over it and follow an actual news source with high standards. And like “md” said, check out, that’s a good place to start to get the facts straight. Here you go, I’ll even help you out- On the page, you’ll see FALSE, meaning the story is a lie. Now you can spread the truth by telling your friends and especially the other dummy who sent the email to you that the stupid email is a hoax.

    • Other than getting the President’s name correct, everything else in this post is a complete fabrication. And, I have no doubt the person who posted this probably believes every bit of it because some other idiot sent it to him.
      What are we coming to as a nation where stupidity not only seems to be the norm, but people seem to aspire to be the dumbest one of the bunch?

  9. I guess all I really needed to see was a boss who insisted they don’t offer tuition reimbursement and this item appeared in the employee handbook under ‘Benefits’. It just escalated from there: non-notary employees witnessing signatures, insane work load with free overtime the only way of dealing with it or never hear the end from management about being constantly behind, 30 minute lunches away from desk and 30 minutes of eating+worktime at desk unpaid encouraged verbally by management and no breaks stated verbally but regularly find the boss’ pet outside smoking whenever.

    Some jobs were are happy to be laid off from. Remember we cannot say anything negative later except, “I saw leaving as an opportunity.”

  10. Re: President Obama:

    Like what he has given the American public or not, you have a say in his remaining in power in 2012. Exercise that right.

    I personally don’t see any point in voting any longer. After having my life almost destroyed by someone who remains free and shows up regularly to inflict more damage and taunt me and the man is still running free after my making a lot of political contacts including this one and all the necessary police agencies. My tormenter is a talented stalker, sexual predator and reportedly a killer. I had the hardest time even getting a protection from stalking order that still lets the man drive by my home whenever he sees fit without any other reason that to check up on his plans to ruin my life and brainstorm new ideas.

    I can attest that something is definitely amiss in the US. I can’t focus on this. I have to protect myself. Ignore my tormenter and get my career back on track. I have to make my living and pay for the living of a lot of politicians, their pet projects and special interests through taxes. I don’t even get the pleasure of being left alone in my own home or allowed to work unmolested. But, I still have to work so expect some errors from time to time. I am the only person who gives a darn about me. I’m a profit making opportunity to some. I’m not even granted protection when my govt job let me go because of an illness. I was denied unemployment. I was the only person taking care of me then.

    One error is thinking your vote makes any difference but I would be happy to cover your right to two hours off paid from work. I get paid time-and-a-half. You can talk about all your political views, aspirations, interesting personal facts, etc but you do know I tuned you out after the first two sentences and just kept trying to work. Just go vote already, shut up and keep working.


    • Whining, really, is a form of lying to oneself. Something about the tone of your communication makes me want to go to the DSM-IVR and review Borderline Personality Disorder….under the ‘poor me’ section. I don’t mean to be ‘mean’ here but I think you are misdirecting your efforts. If you have a reason to fear for yourself physically, move to a state that will allow you to carry a personal ‘fire extinguisher’. Learn how to use it. Then, if your ‘tormentor’ reappears and threatens’ you (witnesses are excellent), problem solved. Well, some paperwork and the loss of your ‘fire extinguisher’ maybe, but a deep sigh of relief, no? And some giggles, maybe, after the storm. Just be VERY sure that YOU are not as much a participant in some not-apparent way as the other person. We can all dance weird dances when we find ourselves in twisted relationships…

  11. I work for GigaByte Tech in City of Industry, CA. I can tell you there’s lots of dishonest people work in there. Way too many that cause so many drama daily. I have been treated badly, as i have seen others get treated bad also. First, department manager can’t keep their promises with salary increase. On top of that, the warehouse manager is just another puppet. He doesn’t know how to manage, hardly ever speak proper English, and warehouse under his control is like a joke. It just sucks to have a manager like that. He said the upper management doesn’t agree to increase more salaries for warehouse workers, that includes me. I speak for at least 2 more people there. But then, a couple months later, he hired his nephew and niece. Wow, thats a liar. Slap in my face.

  12. Not all liars at work are as easy to spot. Sales People and Management often have to lie in the course of their jobs and learn to not show it. I’m not talking about really nefarious lies, but legitimate parts of the job. Sales People may know the next model coming out next month is better and cheaper, but still have to move the existing inventory and meet their sales targets. Management may not agree with certain company policies, but have to convincingly fully back them and encourage employees to follow them. Once you learn how to lie successfully with minimal detectable clues in your job, though, it has to make it easier (though not totally guilt or stress free) to conceal bigger ones elsewhere too.

    • Yes, exactly. Corporate structure rewards sociopathy (amorality) and elevates psychopathy (actively harmful amorality). ‘Normal’ people will die, burn out, become ill from the stress of moral conflict. No morality, no conflict. Anyone above the level of ‘supervisor’ without ‘frown’ lines wears the label and, in the end, is untrustworthy. But sociopaths learn early how to cover their lack and will be Mr. Hale-and heart-Goodfellow to your face. Somewhere in their closet is a pair of loafers with tassles…

  13. Just when you think that airports are safe for the people working with the equipment used to check baggage. Cheap lead curtains that flap in the wind!

      • Yes, James, this includes our corporate greed-based ‘healthcare’ (read ‘corporate health’) system. If you go to the nationally syndicated newspaper column written by two physicians (You Docs – ) and look up CT-scan or CAT-scan, you will discover that according to the National Cancer Institute, in 2007 CT scans were responsible for inducing 29,000 new cancers resulting in 15,000 additional (iatrogenic (physician caused)) DEATHS! “Untraceable” so perfectly okay for our physicians to say “Oh sure they’re safe!” right to your face. FINALLY, after two generations of CDC classification of x-ray as (caps theirs) KNOWN HUMAN CARCINOGEN, it’s starting to filter down to the physicians themselves. CT-scanners are cheap and fast to use profit center) so actually ‘safe’ MRI is actively discouraged. We already have DEATH PANELS. Have had them since medicine cearsed being an Art and became fully corporate. Trust your doctor like you would trust your lawyer…check everything they suggest. According to the National Academy of Sciences study “To Err Is Human” (on the website), the American corporate greed-based healthcare system is killing (KILLING) >90,000 Americans a year through error, neglect, and incompetence. There was nary a peep from anyone when this report from America’s top scientific body came out. Hmmm. Two and a half times more people are killed inadvertantly in our ‘healthcare’ system than die on our highways… In most cases, your physician actually believes the Lies that corporate hands them because Big Med and Big Pharma can propagandize in a way that conduses even our poorly trained healthcare professionals. The same ‘pass-through policy that is used in our ‘inner city schools is used in most medical schools. It’s difficult to ‘flunk out’ of a medical school once you are in, no matter how much horror you may generate in your professors. Good luck.

        • If you would like a couple of examples regarding corporate medical’s ‘honesty’, try VIOXX which Merck “voluntarily” (reluctantly) withdrew which was, amid Merck’s vehement denials, killing many many people in a relatively short time. And, FOSAMAX, which many of you are taking now. FOSAMAX ostensibly works to ‘increase bone mass’. Search for “standing fracture” where, for instance, the femur aimply shatters, not break, shatters. Bone is constantly remodeling itself, two cell-types are princibly involved. Osteoclasts take up old bone (‘clast’) and Osteoblasts deposit new bone. If you put a chicken bone in vinegar you will leach out the calcium and you will see that bone is actually made up mostly of matrix protein and enough Calcium to make it stiff. The protein is what gives bone strength. As we age, osteoblast (new bone) activity slows and osteoclast activity may become dominant and ‘osteoporosis’ is the diagnosis. FOSAMAX inhibits the osteCLAST activity which allows the osteoBLAST deposition to increase the apparent x-ray derived ‘bone density’. The LIE here is that this ‘new’ bone has very little matrix. It is like eggshell. It is denser because of the concentration of Calcium, not because of increased healthy bone. Someone will simply be standing and their femur (for example) will just fall apart like an overstressed eggshell, no ‘claen’ break, shards.. It is becoming ever more common and denials ever more vehement. Interesting example of corporate psychopathy. Another is the “Dalkon shield” and on and on and on ad nauseam.

  14. madame x: how telling! liars assume everyone else lies, cheaters assume everyone else cheats, thieves assume everyone else steals. and they all justify their actions saying “everybody does it”

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