Facial Cues: How To Detect If A Client Is Lying

It was going to be the biggest client engagement of my life. After eight months of wining and dining my prospect I had received the nod to deliver a proposal. Three months later he had our agreement in hand and we were meeting to finalize the deal.

I sat across the conference table from John and he gave me a big smile. “I can’t tell you how thoroughly impressed we are with your proposal. We have made the decision to proceed with your firm. I am signing off on the agreement today and you will have the contract with our check by tomorrow morning.” For a fraction of a second he looked down and his mouth curled down. I never heard from him again.

I never got the signed contract. Never received a deposit. Never even got a call or email. In retrospect I knew the truth the moment he looked down. He had made a micro expression that revealed the truth – his firm had decided not to use our company, and he didn’t have the courage to say it face to face (or even over email for that matter).

Looking back, I could have saved my nearly year of effort if I just paid attention to his facial cues at our first meeting. When words don’t match the simultaneous facial expressions, it spells trouble.

Over time I have learned that the truth is not what people say. It is what they say AND what they do while they say it that speaks the truth. The truth is revealed through microexpressions, subtle changes in the face that happens for only a fraction of a second. A microexpression is just like any other facial expression (e.g. a wide open slacking jaw expressing utter surprise) it is just expressed momentarily, before the person “recovers” to a lying expression that matches their lying words.

Once you understand how facial cues work, you can match your clients words to their actions and “hear” the truth every single time:

Your client can’t afford your proposal – When you offer something that is more expensive than your client expected, it will trigger a fear or surprise response. Look for a microexpression where the person opens their eyes wide, crunches their browline and opens their mouth. This indicates surprise. Alternatively the person may open their eyes, crunch their browline, keep their mouth shut tight and stiffen their entire body. This is a fear response. Either way, they can’t afford your offer regardless of what they say.

The don’t understand the value of your offer – Even though your client may be saying they fully understand your offer, if they show a microexpression of one eyebrow raised higher than the other, the don’t. Look for the eyebrow raise to be matched with a wrinkled nose and a crease between the eyebrows. When you see this expression, make sure you re-explain your proposal, because if you don’t it may be lost.

You didn’t deliver what the customer expected – When someone sees something they did not expect, it triggers a surprise response. Look for wide open eyes and an open (even gaping) mouth. If they are totally shocked they will likely give a small frown along with the wide open eyes. Remember, this microexpression may reveal itself only for a split second. Be on the lookout and if you see it, explain why your proposal is be different than they might have expected.

You lost the deal – They utter the words “you’re our number one choice,” or “I am signing off on this today,” but it is coupled with their eyes glancing down, dropped shoulders and a frown – the microexpression for disappointment or sadness. Often when someone lies in an effort to make you feel good and avoid their own discomfort, the sadness microexpression will appear. If you see this, don’t take their words at face value (no pun intended). You better ask if there is anything else you can do to make sure you get the deal.

They feel you are taking advantage of them – You will only get a deal when both sides feel they are coming out winning. Even if your client says this looks like a good deal, if their nostrils flare and eyes squint their face is telling you the are upset.

They are ready to buy – This is the one you want! When a customer says they are ready to buy and shows a microexpression with a smile where the corners of the mouth turn up, typically with the just the upper teeth exposed – you have a serious buyer. And if the customer is really excited to work with you, the will likely have an open mouth smile with the eyes open to their fullest with their eyebrows up high. If you see that, congratulations, you landed the client!

Your customer has been telling you the truth all along, just not through their words, but through their expressions. Start asking more “yes” or “no” type questions and watch for their microexpressions. If the expression doesn’t match their words, they are lying.

Ultimately, the truth is written all over your client’s face.


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