Memorize this conversation formula to stop a liar mid-sentence


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Watching someone spin a web of lies right before my eyes makes me want to channel Kat Stratford and break out in angry poetry (“I hate it when you lie / I hate it when you make me laugh / Even worse when you make me cry”). Even though 10 Things I Hate About You ends on a cheesy high note, a psychologist tells me that confrontational verse isn’t a viable tactic for shutting down a liar out here in the real world. In fact, you shouldn’t mention the falsehood standing between you at all.

“There’s going to be some temptation to insist that the person explain themselves, but that’s not always productive,” says Aimee Daramus, PsyD, a psychologist based in Chicago. “It can be emotionally satisfying when they dig themselves in deep, but it doesn’t solve the problem. It’s best to believe actions, not words.” So rather than giving someone the third degree, offer them an opportunity to prove that they’re not a dirty rotten liar with actions. “If the lie is truly important, stop analyzing it and start talking about action. At work it might be ‘When can I expect that report?’ or ‘What can you contribute to this project?’ With this, you can take some power back,” says Dr. Daramus.

“When people show you who they are, believe them.” —Maya Angelou

The same logic applies to interpersonal relationships, says the psychologist. If your friend promises to help you move, but you’re doubtful that they will, give them the opportunity to prove you wrong. (e.g., “I’m going to need help moving this Saturday and Sunday—let me know when you can stop by!”) If they tell you their dog has the flu and every subway is out of service and they totally forget that their aunt bought tickets to The Lion King, you have your answer. And with it a very clear piece of evidence that a friend breakup may be in order.

Dr. Daramus does caveat that white lies are sometimes best left alone. “If your friend is bragging about a ‘Coach’ bag that you know they bought online for $15—sure, you could probably expose them,” she says, “but for what?” Remember, you don’t want to let someone else’s dishonesty cause you to be unkind. Then, you both lose.

In the wise words of Dr. Maya Angelou: “When people show you who they are, believe them.”

If you have a narcissist in your life, here’s how to cut them off before they can manipulate you. Plus, the skin care lie you don’t want to tell your dermatologist. 

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