20 Habits Of Untrustworthy People That You Should Look Out For

Whether in your professional or personal life, untrustworthy individuals are people you generally want to avoid. But keeping dishonest characters away from your door is never as simple as it sounds. On the contrary, it’s often near-impossible to tell whether that colleague or romantic interest is a compulsive liar at heart. So how can you know if that new person in your life is someone whom you can trust? Well, fortunately, there are some tell-tale signs that you should be looking out for.

20. They try a little too hard to charm you

As the old saying goes, “Flattery will get you anywhere.” And perhaps that’s why untrustworthy people often try to get into people’s good books with a little sweet talk. You see, when someone is excessively complimentary, it’s not always because that person’s nice. Rather, it’s because that person wants you to see them in a favorable light.

And it isn’t just everyday work situations where this rule is helpful. For example, lawmakers such as FBI counterintelligence agent LaRae Quy often look out for flattery when interviewing potential perpetrators. In her experience, excessive fawning is a sign “that one lacks authenticity and sincerity” – as she wrote in Inc. in 2015 – and a warning that what they say shouldn’t be taken at face value.

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19. They dominate the conversation

Have you ever been at a party where one person has the whole room enthralled with their stories? Well, don’t take much stock in the tales they spin; they may be made up. According to psychologists, owning the room could be a signal of Machiavellianism and an indication that this person isn’t entirely trustworthy.

Psychologist Jesse Berring wrote in Scientific American in 2011 that Machiavellians “are pragmatic liars who aren’t fearful or anxious.” And this is why at parties “they tend to dominate, but they also seem relaxed, talented and confident.” Because of this, it can be hard to turn your attention from the lies. As body language reader Patti Wood explained to Bustle in 2020, their charms can be “hypnotic.”

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18. Buzz words are their mother tongue

“Solutionize.” “Ideation.” “Enterprise Thinking.” These are the kinds of words you often hear managers saying that sound big but ultimately mean nothing. To those on the the corporate ladder, buzzwords tend to be an annoying part of the daily grind. But to those in the know, they’re a signal of so much more.

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Former FBI operative Robin Dreeke even associates a propensity for buzzwords with dishonesty. Writing for CNBC in 2020, the expert argued that they’re used “to substitute quantity for quality” and thus are helpful in diverting from the truth. Buzzwords are also a great tool for incompetent leaders as they mask the fact the speaker doesn’t “have anything to say.”

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17. They love bonding over mutual dislikes

Don’t get us wrong, we all love a little gossip. And who can deny that dishing dirt with a confidant about someone you don’t like isn’t a little fun? What makes gossip so rewarding, though, is the fact that by doing so you’re establishing a rapport with someone else. And these are the sort of connections that dishonest people love to seek out.

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In Dreeke’s opinion, untrustworthy people use gossip as a way to establish a connection with you. “They imply that you’re better than those other people, otherwise they wouldn’t be confiding their disapproval,” the expert outlined. “They give you opportunities to jump in with your own disapproval for those people, as if it’s a healthy form of bonding.”

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16. They move quickly in their relationships

It can be hard not to see a new partner making commitments right away as anything other than a good sign. Whether they’re asking to meet your parents, planning a weekend break away, or even suggesting you move in together all within the first month, it may seem that you’ve found the one. Sadly, though, the truth is usually a little more complex…

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In reality, a partner may only be moving so fast because they know doing so lowers your defenses. “Oftentimes,” psychologist Nicole Issa revealed to Bustle, “people who are likely to harm others will sweep in quickly and forcefully and try to foster a false sense of trust.” So if things are moving at a lightning pace, don’t be afraid to apply the brakes.

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15. They don’t take criticism well

Most of us can be a little sensitive to criticism. And how hard is it to not be? If you’ve invested your time and effort into a project, then it can be a little demoralizing when someone picks it apart. But while criticism for many of us is a necessary part of personal growth, it’s a completely different story for dishonest people.

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According to Dreeke, sensitivity to criticism is “one of the most common” traits of untrustworthy individuals. And it can be “dangerous” as people who become defensive “feel that if they deny something, it ceases to exist.” Also, psychologist Dr. Clinton Moore told Bustle that dishonest people “tend to derive their sense of worth from positive feedback” making it easy for them to block out negative opinions.

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14. They become aggressive when challenged

Should you ever succeed in calling a liar out on their lies, don’t expect them to take it in their stride. Unlike ordinary people, untrustworthy people tend to become angered when confronted with their dishonesty. Dreeke explained that untrustworthy people “pout. They act aggressive. They change the subject. They distort the ‘accusation.’”

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In these cases, it often feels like you’ve done something wrong. But don’t be fooled: it’s merely a front to cover up the fact they’ve been caught out. “When a liar becomes hostile or defensive, he is attempting to turn the tables on you,” warned behavioral analyst Dr. Lillian Glass when talking to Business Insider in 2015.

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13. They always, definitely, unequivocally speak in absolutes

“You never finish your work on time.” “You’re always late.” “You don’t care about me at all.” Statements phrased as strongly as these are very effective in convincing you that the point in question must be inarguable. And because of this, strident words such as “always” and “never” are a gift for untrustworthy people who want to present their lies as truth.

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What’s more, an inability to counter such exaggerations can take its toll on accurate information according to Dreeke. “When absolutes go unchallenged, they have a perverse tendency to be reborn as the truth,” the expert explained. In contrast, words such as “usually” or “often” that express doubt and “soften absolutes” can be a good indicator that the speaker can be trusted.

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12. They have a new set of friends every week

Many of us have difficulties in making new friends, but untrustworthy people don’t seem to have this problem. For them, finding people to hang out with is no trouble and they often appear to have a wide circle of acquaintances. Thing is, though, keeping relationships alive when you’re a liar is something of an issue. So their amiability is more out of necessity than choice.

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“But if dishonest people keep losing friends,” we hear you ask, “how come they always make new buddies?” Well, it all really comes down to them projecting an image of themselves as someone with whom you’d want to be friends. As outlined by body language specialist Patti Wood to Bustle, dishonest people “are often quite charming and good storytellers.”

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11. They love a robust debate

One thing untrustworthy people love to do is engage people in debates. Not civilized and rational debates, though. Rather, one-sided wars of words that focus on attacks of character as opposed to ideas. Due to this, engaging a dishonest person in debates can be dangerous because – as Direct to the People pointed out in 2016 – “they have no interest in an honest discussion.”

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According to Dreeke, untrustworthy people resort to underhanded tactics such as “insinuation” and “playing on fears” when arguing. And recent political debates have shown us that these dubious techniques are everywhere. “Once upon a time you couldn’t get a passing grade in English if you communicated like that,” Dreeke wrote. “Now, you can run for high profile office.”

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10. What they’re saying doesn’t match how they’re saying it

Throughout your life, you’ve been taught that body language conveys just as much meaning as spoken words. So when someone is frowning while speaking, for example, that’s probably a good indicator that whomever you’re speaking with has something negative to share. Liars, on the other hand, may be more inclined to smile when delivering a supposedly unhappy story.

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In general, dishonest people will convey one emotion through their speech and another with their bodies. At least, that’s the experience of emotional intelligence expert Travis Bradberry who told Entrepreneur in 2015 that such disconnect is a tell-tale sign of dishonesty. “It’s easy to lie with words, but our bodies know (and show) the truth,” he wrote.

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9. Their facial expressions seem off

A dishonest person may find it easy to lie to you, but lying to themselves is a different matter entirely. And as such, untrustworthy individuals often exhibit unique mannerisms that show just how painful they really find the act of lying. So learning to hone in on these clues is a good way to separate the truth from fiction.

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During his tenure with the FBI, Dreeke identified a series of behaviors that can indicate an individual’s true nature. These could be a fake smile, a rolled-back head and fixed, staring eyes. “When you see these signs, it’s wise – and often kind – to give them special attention about why they feel uncomfortable,” explained the behavioral analyst.

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8. They deflect blame while apologizing

Of course, apologizing when you’re in the wrong is a vital part of maintaining a healthy relationship. And yet saying “sorry” isn’t always as easy it seems; it involves owning up to your mistakes and acknowledging your own fallibility. Perhaps this is why dishonest people – who are often blind to their imperfections – find this task especially difficult.

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Admittedly, untrustworthy people can say they’re sorry. But they usually use it as a prefix for an accusation that reframes the recipient as the real villain. “This happens out of fear,” suggested Dreeke, “particularly in fear’s common disguises of arrogance, perfectionism or some other form of superiority.” If you find yourself on the receiving end of this kind of apology, Dreeke’s suggestion is to “quit while you’re ahead.”

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7. They like to sour your opinion on others

Due to their superficially charming natures, dishonest people are often very good at forming bonds with people. But it’s not enough for these untrustworthy individuals to count you as a friend. Sometimes, these unscrupulous characters will purposefully try to drive a wedge between you and your other acquaintances just for the sake of it.

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One way that untrustworthy people tear down bonds between friends is through hearsay. And according to specialists such as Moore, “manipulation and gossip” are perfect tools for liars to pit person against person. After the dust has settled on these arguments, the dishonest individual may also find themselves in a situation that’s more suited to their needs.

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6. Their body language is closed-off

No matter how proficient somebody becomes in lying, the act itself will always leave that person uncomfortable. For Bradberry, this discomfort comes from the fact that “lying makes them feel exposed, vulnerable, and open to attack.” And as a result, someone who’s taking you for a ride may appear like they’re keeping you at an arm’s length.

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To be more precise, someone who’s lying to you will cover the most exposed sections of their body – such as their “head, neck, or abdomen” – as a defensive measure. But more telling than these gestures is a full or partial covering of the mouth. As Bradberry stated, a covered mouth quite literally represents a “closing off of communication.”

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5. Their movements and emotions are hard to predict

Certain people seem to change on a daily basis. One moment, they won’t leave you alone; the next, they won’t even respond to your texts. If you have a friend who’s this unpredictable, it could be a signal of untrustworthiness according to counselor Leah Rockwell. “Behaviors that are either aggressive or erratic are signs that someone hasn’t [yet] figured out who they are,” Rockwell told Bustle.

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In a similar way, small changes in emotions can be a giveaway, too. Does this person experience mood swings, for example? Can they switch between opposing emotional states in an instant? Someone who exhibits these behaviors – in the opinion of Wood – is likely prone to narcissism and the habit of saying or doing anything to emerge on top.

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4. They never work on a relationship

It goes without saying that relationships are hard. And in order to maintain a healthy bond, couples must work together to understand the other’s changing needs. Sadly, though, not all partners are interested in putting in the work, which leads to a situation where one partner is shouldering all the responsibilities.

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In many cases, a simple conversation can readdress the balance. But partners who are dishonest, unreliable or controlling may exhibit what relationship advisor Dr. Kelly Campbell refers to as a “demand-withdrawal.” Rather than confront the issue, these individuals are more likely to withdraw “from the conversation and [avoid] discussion” as Campbell explained to My Domaine in 2020.

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3. They project all their insecurities onto you

Theorized about by none other than Sigmund Freud, psychological projection’s a common condition recognized among psychoanalysis. Essentially a form of self-defense, this behavior is used as a way for certain people to avoid dealing with their own bad habits while simultaneously calling somebody else out for them. And as has been observed by authors like Thomas Koulopoulos, it’s a technique commonly utilized by the dishonest.

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“People who are untrustworthy…have an amazingly consistent habit of accusing others of behaviors that they themselves are exhibiting or contemplating,” he wrote in Inc. in 2017. So if somebody you know is accusing you of something you’ve never done, don’t take it to heart. Likely, they’re just trying to divert attention away from their own shortcomings.

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2. They can’t keep secrets

Well, this one’s a given! If someone who can’t be trusted enters your life then you should under no condition tell them anything you don’t want anybody else hearing. And no, we shouldn’t have to tell you why. But how can you tell if someone new can keep a secret without actually giving them a secret to spill?

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One way to identify an untrustworthy person is to see how well they keep their own confidential information confidential. Did that person unload all their emotional baggage on you when you first met them? If yes, then psychotherapists such as Dr. Laura Dabney fear it’s a sign they lack control over themselves and are probably unlikely to keep their mouths shut.

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1. They show little to no empathy

We’ve talked about all the habits and peculiarities of untrustworthy people. Yet one thing we haven’t discussed is why dishonest people lie in the first place. For many psychologists, it all boils down to empathy – something many of us take for granted but that untrustworthy people are fully or partially lacking. And this deficiency allows them to cast a blind eye to the pain their lies cause.

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This is part of the reason why we let people like this into our lives. In the words of psychiatrist Judith Orloff, our natural empathy makes it difficult for us to imagine someone without it. “So many people get into relationships with pathological liars… because they’re trying to fit these people into the ordinary standards of what it means to be empathetic,” she told Business Insider in 2018.

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