Body Language Expert | Motivational Speaker | Keynote Speaker | Communication Expert | Presentation & Speaking Skills Trainer | One-On-One Coach

BODY HONESTY IN CUSTOMER SERVICE: Understanding Deception and Credibility Cues

By Patti Wood, MA

Answer these questions to test your skill in being able to spot a liar or in being able to look credible. Take this quiz before you read the next chapter. Answers are at the end of the chapter.

Spotting a Liar Multiple Choice:

1. A liar

    a. will answer questions quickly and give longer answers.

    b. will spend less time gesturing.

    c. will have longer pauses and shorter answers.

2. You can telling when someone is lying most accurately by reading

    a. facial expressions.

    b. the body.

    c. the eyes.

Looking Credible Multiple Choice:

3. The best way to look honest with your body language is to

    a. be relaxed.

    b. hold a steady posture without a lot of extraneous movement.

    c. match your body language to whatever you are saying.

4. To show truthfulness when giving a presentation, hold your hands

    a. loosely at your sides or with one hand in your pocket.

    b. clasped loosely in front of you.

    c. palms open.

5. Which of the following actions would make you look more honest?

    a. Leaning toward the interviewer.

    b. Leaning back, relaxed, with your hands clasped behind your head.

    c. Wearing a suit and tie and sitting behind a desk.

6. What should you do with your mouth if you want to hide the truth?

    a. Hold it still.

    b. Maintain a slight small smile.

    c. Be careful of pursing or licking your lips.

Body Honesty

In the most important interviews of their careers, Gary Condit sucked in his lips and stuck out his tongue, Bill Clinton touched his nose about every four minutes and Enron's Ken Lay over-acted and was overconfident. In these public moments, each of these men displayed nonverbal cues of deception. They lost their credibility.

In politics and public relations, losing credibility can be disastrous. The same is true in customer service. What can be learned from the mistakes of these public figures? Can you spot a liar? And even more importantly, do you know how to avoid sending out the wrong signals?

Customers are watching you for nonverbal cues as well as listening to the words you say. If you tell a customer that you can deliver in three months and swipe your tongue across your lips, she may believe on a subconscious level that you’re not being completely honest. When your front-counter employee smiles and sarcastically tells your customer he’s “so sorry” the customer is upset, the words are meaningless.

Trust is a crucial ingredient in business dealings. Customers need to trust that you will be honest with them. If a customer believes that a car salesman is trying to sell a lemon or that the computer help desk is lying about the need to upgrade to their new software, that customer will take his or her business elsewhere.

There are up to 10,000 nonverbal cues packed in every minute of interaction. When someone is not telling the truth, their nonverbal behavior speaks volumes. Eyes, head, voice and hands le ak out cues of withholding and deception or cues that can establish credibility.

Nonverbal communication is the way the subconscious mind speaks. No matter how much you want to control it, your nonverbal behavior gives clues to how you are truly feeling. Body language cues are undeniable although the underlying motivation and the interpretation can vary. Therefore you need to base your interpretation on a number of factors called deception cues. Knowing these cues can help you in two important ways. The y will help you spot a liar, and they will help you learn the body language cues to establish credibility.


*Pauses - The Nine Months Pregnant Pause

Liars use longer pauses, shorter answers and longer times between a question and a response than someone who is merely nervous. It makes sense that liars need time to create the lie; recalling the truth takes less time. If you ask a clerk if he gave you the correct change and there is a long pause before his response, it may be an indication of deceit. However, this is not a cue you should take in isolation. You might also check to see where his eyes go after you ask the question. People tend to look up to the right to visualize or create a new response or down to the right to create the sounds of a new response. We recall information that occurred in the past by looking up to the left or down to the left. Spot a liar by listening for pauses and right eye movement. Be credible by answering spontaneously.

*The Hands Have it – Excessive Gesturing and Adaptors

When people lie spontaneously, they tend to spend more time gesturing with hands and using adapters, such as scratching the body or playing with a pen than someone who is just nervous. If you ask Sara in payroll, why your check is so late, and then she picks up the beanie baby from her desk and begins to play with it as she says she has worked on this for hours and she has no idea, she may be subconsciously saying something else. On the other hand, the rehearsed or practiced liar, who has planned their deceit ahead of time, will try to control gestures. Spot a liar by their excessive gesturing. Be credible by not fidgeting and keeping your gestures natural.

*Mind Your Mouth – Mouth, Lips, and Tongue Cues

Be careful of pursing or licking your lips. Congressman Gary Condit pursed his lips and sucked them inward more than 14 times in his infamous 2002 television interview with Connie Chung. This behavior can indicate extreme anxiety as well as withholding information and may also be a sign aggression. Tight lips indicate you may be planning to hold the truth in. If you actually suck the lips part way in, you may be withholding anger. When you are nervous, your mouth becomes dry, and you lick your lips and swallow as you struggle to find the right words to say. To spot a liar, look for unusual movement of the mouth, lips or tongue. To be credible, don’t lick or purse your lips and keep yourself hydrated with plenty of water.

*Be Still, My Love – Lack of Animation

Deception is all about keeping something hidden. The more a person moves his body or expresses with his voice and the more he or she speaks, the more we can learn. Practiced liars know this and usually keep as still as possible. Being overly controlled can work against you. Gary Condit was coached to stay still in his television interview, so he kept his face inexpressive, his upper body stiff, and his legs crossed. First, he looked frozen, and then when he couldn't hold it any longer, he leaked out aggression cues such as finger pointing, grasping motions, and sticking out his tongue. We spotted a liar. I have often seen a normally animated customer service rep begin to do a product explanation and become a monotonous automaton. The audience wondered what he was hiding and was bored to tears. Spot a liar by looking for someone who is too stiff and still. Be credible by making sure you are animated.

*Hand Jive – Hiding Hands

The hands come out symbolically from the heart; hands and arms symbolically express the emotions of the heart. Liars tend to keep their hands hidden and still. They stick them in their pockets, clench them together or hold them behind their backs. Imagine that the person whom you suspect of lying has the truth in the palms of his hands and see if he shows them to you. It is not surprising that one of the first things we do to start a business interaction or close a deal with a customer is shake hands. My three years of research on handshakes shows that the single most important factor in the andshake is palm to palm contact. Research also indicates that if customers don't get this contact, they wonder what the other person is hiding, they are uncomfortable for the rest of the interaction, and they are less likely to purchase. People often do hide their hands when they are nervous, so if you see hidden hands, ask yourself why that person is nervous. Be credible by using your hands normally as you speak or by letting them hang loosely at your sides. And try not to clasp them together. Body language is highly symbolic, and clasping may look as if you are holding your own hands for comfort.

*Windows to the Soul – Closed Curtains

We have what I call windows all over the body. Just as we pull down the shades when we don’t want others to see in, we also close off the entrances to our bodies so our true feelings aren't revealed. There are windows at the bottom of the feet, the kneecaps, the bottom of the torso, the middle of the chest, the neck, the mouth and eyes, and the top of the head. Liars tend to close entrances to hide the truth. A liar closes these windows by putting clothing over them, turning his body away from the person he is talking to, putting objects or furniture between himself and others and, most simply, by folding his arms. When someone's windows are closed, we don't feel as comfortable in an interaction.

If someone has her face is turned toward you, but the rest of her body is turned toward the exit, her windows are closed. She is saying, “I am pretending by looking at you that I want to talk but actually I want to go home. I am not really interested in serving you.” In the 90's I consulted with the architect and owners of the new "Ripley's Believe It or Not" museums on the layout of the entrances and ticket counters of new locations. They planned to make raised, platform-high, counter-top ticket booths an average of ten steps from the door. This design was great for security, but I explained that this design would reduce spontaneous purchases. People had to go too far to see the ticket person, and most of his or her body windows would be hidden. Customers would not feel safe and comfortable. To spot a liar, look for barriers and closed windows. To be credible, keep your windows open.

*Why Can't We Be Friends? – Withdrawn Behavior

If we are comfortable with ourselves, the person we are with, and the topic we are discussing, we will be open and friendly. Liars don’t usually feel very comfortable so they tend to hold back and be less friendly. It is easier for friends and intimates to lie to each other successfully because they appear less withdrawn and friendlier. Perhaps they concentrate more on lying because the other person knows them, perhaps they are more concerned about the consequences of detection or maybe they are better at deception because they have experience lying to the person in the past. In any case, they lie differently, and as with career criminals, they can usually maintain a more relaxed overall demeanor and look the recipient of the lie straight in the eye. Strangers need to work harder to keep each other from seeing the truth. Consequently, they are more withdrawn and closed off from the person with whom they are conversing and usually don’t appear as friendly. You have heard for years that you need to be friendly with the customer. Now you know why. Remember, our ancestors went to the friendly tribes to trade. To spot a liar, look for someone unfriendly. Be credible by reaching out, being open and receptive.

*I Want To Sell You A Car! – Excessive Confidence

Have you ever encountered a super-smooth salesperson? Perhaps, he or she over- enthusiastically praised the product, and you felt uncomfortable about the pitch. Then you have deciphered a lie by noting that the person sounded too good or too confident. We look and listen for anything that doesn't sound normal. Nonverbal communication, in this case paralanguage, which includes voice, tone, volume, and speaking rate, that sounds overconfident or staged is read at the subconscious level as out of the norm. Years ago, a friend who was a very successful computer salesman came to my office to do some selling for me over the phone. Instead of using a planned patter, he hemmed and hawed and stumbled over his words. His mistakes surprised me. I thought he was just warming up. Five calls later he was still sounding awkward. So I gathered up my courage and asked him about his behavior.

He said, “Oh, when I first started as a salesman I was very awkward and very successful. People went out of their way to be nice to me on the phone. Sometimes they even finished my sales pitch for me! I noticed later when I became very confident, make that cocky and fake, that I was not as successful. So I stayed humble. I don't worry about sounding smooth and perfect. Just being my bumbling self.

works for me.” Spot a liar by going with your gut impression. Your instincts read fake at a hundred paces. Normal levels of confidence, however, also read as sincere. Be credible by being your real self.

*Don't Cry For Me, Argentina -- Circumstances Not Matching Demeanor

One of the first things you look for when reading body language is the alignment of the circumstances with the demeanor of the person talking to you. For instance, in Connie Chung’s television interview with Congressman Gary Condit, we expected him to be emotionally upset and embarrassed, considering he was a politician suspected of having an affair with a young woman who had been missing for 115 days. Instead, he began the interview calmly and proceeded to become indignant. This demeanor was not what we expected. Lack of appropriateness is a sign that the person is not being sincere.

When I was driving back from New York a few days after September 11, gas station attendants continued to say with feigned brightness, “Have a nice day.” They were on automatic pilot. I knew they didn't even realize how they sounded. Oddly enough when I told them that I was coming back from New York near Ground Zero, each and every person became more sincere. Spot a liar or more accurately spot an insincere person by “canned” or stock phrases. Be credible by treating each person as an individual and being in the moment with them.

*Nothing Is Wrong! -- Nonverbal Behavior Does Not Match Spoken Words

When the spoken words don’t agree with the nonverbal communication, we generally trust the nonverbal communication to tell us the truth. When a customer says nothing is wrong, while sitting with arms wrapped tightly around the body and a scowl on the face, we doubt her sincerity. If a service rep says, “Yes, we can do that for you” while shaking his head “No,” we can be sure he is, at least, ambivalent about his answer. Spot a liar by watching for lack of synchronicity. The subconscious reveals the truth. If the service person says, “This is a great service contract,” while rubbing his eyes, it doesn't look right; the ears, it doesn't sound right; or the nose, it stinks. Look credible by matching your body language to what you are saying.

These days getting a front line service representative to love their jobs and enjoy dealing with the customers can be difficult. Attitude problems and surly help seem be the norm. You can't just tell the help to smile. Employees need to be comfortable with their tasks and knowledge. Ask yourself, “Am I giving enough time to training and what am I doin g to make the workplace friendly?” A smile is the most common facial expression for masking emotions. It is often used to hide displeasure and anger. A genuine smile changes the entire face. The eyes light up. The forehead wrinkles, the eyebrows and cheek muscles rise, skin around the eyes and mouth crinkles and finally the mouth turns up. In a masking smile, however, nothing moves but the corners of the mouth and often they curve down rather than up. When you, or your employees, are happy working with people and believe in what you are saying and selling, your smile will be genuine, and customers will be more likely to return that smile.

Knowing these cues can help you decipher when someone else is being less than honest. Sometimes people say, “It’s all in your mind.” Now you know, “It’s all in your body.”


1. Answer is c. Liars have longer pauses, shorter answers and longer times between a question and a response than someone who is merely nervous.

2. Answer is b. Our faces and eyes hide the truth more easily than the rest of the body. The body, especially the lower portion, is under less conscious control.

3. Answer is c. Your body language needs to match what you’re saying.

4. Answer is c. Keep your palms open. Rehearsed liars tend to keep their hands, especially the palms, hidden and still. Loosely at your sides is all right.

5. Answer is a. Leaning toward the interviewer makes you appear open and interested. Liars tend to close entrances to the body to hide the truth.

6. Answer is c. Be careful of pursing or licking your lips. A smile is the most common facial expression used to mask emotions.


Need some fresh, free content for your Web site or ezine? You have permission to reprint these articles as long as:

a) Each article is printed in its full form without changes.

b) You send an e-mail to letting us know where you will be publishing the articles. Please send us a copy of the article as it appeared or send the link to the site it appeared on. This step is very important.

c) You include the following byline information at the end of each article:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patti Wood, MA  is a Professional Speaker and a Communication and Body Language expert based in Atlanta, GA. Patti's clients include Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and associations, and she has written seven books. Patti is currently finishing her newest book "People Savvy".

For a description of Patti's program on deception detection link here:

Patti also offers one-on-one coaching in gaining trust in the workplace and enhancing your own deception detection abilities: