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How to Tell If Someone Is Fake: Signs of a Phony Person

FlourishAnyway is an industrial/organizational psychologist with applied experience in corporate Human Resources and consulting.

People don't always broadcast their true intentions, so any of us can be fooled by a phony person wanting to get closer to us. Protect yourself from phony people by learning the 12 signs that you're dealing with someone who is fake.

People don't always broadcast their true intentions, so any of us can be fooled by a phony person wanting to get closer to us. Protect yourself from phony people by learning the 12 signs that you're dealing with someone who is fake.

Friend or Phony?

I once did a small favor for a friend of a friend. It was trivial to me but apparently it meant a huge deal to her. The next thing I knew, I had a new best buddy. (Later, I learned that she had dropped her previous best friend for me.)

Although she had never talked to me before, suddenly she was calling me several times a day to gossip and complain about being wronged by various others, sometimes years prior. She never shared much background information about herself other than how knowledgeable, connected, and heroic she was.

Although there was little emotional depth to her, we bonded over a shared hobby and complementary expertise. Then, after nearly two years into the relationship I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and my fake friend disappeared, dropping me for a replacement BFF.

It's not always easy to tell why a potential business contact, dating partner, or friend is seeking you out. Their reasons for wanting to associate with you may be genuine or could be motivated by a selfish agenda. They could want information, access, or resources you have.

Unfortunately, people don't necessarily broadcast their true intentions, so any of us can be fooled by a phony person wanting to get closer to us. Protect yourself from phony people by learning the 12 signs that you're dealing with someone who is fake.

We are all self-interested to some degree, but a person who is authentic is the same on the outside as they are on the inside. They don't express attitudes, behaviors, and thoughts that aren't truly their own just to make themselves appear more similar to someone they want to impress. Learn are 12 signs that you're dealing with a phony below.

12 Signs You're Dealing With a Phony

  1. They come on strong
  2. They are intense people pleasers
  3. They are big braggarts and enjoy drama
  4. They spread gossip
  5. They exaggerate and lie
  6. They are poor listeners
  7. They request frequent favors
  8. It's all for their convenience
  9. They disappear when needed
  10. They're emotionally distant
  11. Their body language speaks volumes
  12. They'll leave you when there's a better deal
"The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are." - C.G. Jung, Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst

"The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are." - C.G. Jung, Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst

Sign 1: They Come on Strong

Whereas relationships typically evolve at a natural pace, this phony person develops an interest in you out of nowhere. They initiate contact with you and then are eager to follow up. They seem to know more about you than vice versa. They point out amazing parallels in your lives. Coincidence? Nah. There's a point to their making a connection with you. You're just too flattered and overcome right now to know what it is yet.

Sign 2: They Are Intense People Pleasers

Let the lovebombing begin! You'll notice that your fake new buddy is a people pleaser, offering over-the-top compliments to ingratiate themselves to you. They ask you lots of questions but generate few definitive answers of their own. That's because they are reluctant to state a decisive point of view, especially one that might conflict with yours.

Phony people endeavor to be all things to all people, and they are overeager to make others like them. They want to know what you think first, and then they agree with your perspective. However, when a person is afraid to commit to a belief system, that's simply disingenuine—fake. People shouldn't trust those who waffle on their core values. You may not have noticed it, however, because they manipulated you into doing a lot of the initial talking. (People love to talk about themselves—including you!) Stop and ask more questions.

Sign 3: They Are Big Braggarts and Enjoy Drama

Now that your fake new buddy has gained your confidence, they feel entitled to brag about themselves. They grab the spotlight in conversation and are eager to impress you. Because they're insecure, they'll boast, show off, and drop names. They'll tell you directly what talents they are especially good at and will convey their strengths through stories. Watch for them to play the role of hero.

As time goes on, pay attention to whether your fake buddy is too wrapped up in their own narrative that they don't have enough concern for yours. For example:

  • Are they genuinely happy when you succeed?
  • Do they show jealousy over your success?
  • Do they betray confidences?
  • Do they have your back?
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We are all self-interested to some degree, but a person who is authentic is the same on the outside as they are on the inside.  How authentic are you?

We are all self-interested to some degree, but a person who is authentic is the same on the outside as they are on the inside. How authentic are you?

Sign 4: They Spread Gossip

It's not enough for your fake friend to build themselves up. They have to engage in character assassination when their targets aren't available to defend themselves. They point out others' personal flaws, spread gossip that may or may not be true, and add to interpersonal drama by keeping negative information and complaints actively churning.

Phony people may share stories in which they star as the victim and "an evil other" commonly stars as the villain. Remember though that if someone will gossip with you, they'll gossip about you. It's possible that one day you may be that "evil other" in their retold rumor.

Sign 5: They Exaggerate and Lie

You hear the same stories from your fake friend repeatedly, although they don't realize how often they repeat themselves. Eventually, you start to notice the inconsistencies and even flat-out lies as they recount slightly different versions of the same self-promoting stories. If you then start to verify their stories or information behind the dropped names, you'll likely find that substantial self-puffery is involved.

Sign 6: They Are Poor Listeners

Whereas authentic people ask a question because they want to know the answer, the phony person cannot be bothered to listen to the response. Asking is merely enough. They may give inappropriate reactions because they aren't paying attention or move onto another question or conversation topic. They often don't seem to be able to recall what you've said. Sorry, but they're just not that interested.

Is your fake friend really listening to you?  Do they respond appropriately?  Do they look bored or lost in thought?  Can they recall what you said?

Is your fake friend really listening to you? Do they respond appropriately? Do they look bored or lost in thought? Can they recall what you said?

Sign 7: They Request Frequent Favors

Having found a willing comrade, the fake friend requests a small favor from you for information, access, or resources. The favor may even seem unusual given the length of your relationship. Then they follow it up with a series of other small requests that eventually escalate in significance until you're their go-to source. They're finally getting what they originally wanted.

Sign 8: It's All for Their Convenience

Do you understand yet that the world revolves around your phony friend? When and where to meet, how you'll be spending your time—it's whatever is convenient for them. They make commitments and offer assistance but often don't follow through unless there's some advantage to be had.

Sign 9: They Disappear When Needed

When you find yourself in a real bind—for example, you're moving across town, your husband leaves you, you break your leg, or you need someone to pet sit—that's when your fake friend becomes very scarce. They're suddenly crazy busy, disappearing when needed most.

When you find yourself in a real bind, that's when your fake friend pulls a disappearing act.

When you find yourself in a real bind, that's when your fake friend pulls a disappearing act.

Sign 10: They're Emotionally Distant

To keep themselves from being emotionally vulnerable, the fake friend avoids sharing revealing personal details about themselves, particularly their own feelings. They may claim to never get mad, but seriously—no one is happy all of the time. If you look closely, you can tell that your phony pal tends to sport a fake smile rather than a genuine one. (Genuine smiles reach the crinkles of the eyes.)

Sign 11: Their Body Language Speaks Volumes

A phony person may verbalize, "How fascinating!" as you describe your rock collection, but it's their feet that will give them away. During conversation, the direction one's feet are facing more than anything else reveals their true feelings of where they want to be. If their body is angled so that their feet are pointing towards an exit, for example, then that's the direction they want to be headed in rather than engaging in the conversation with you. Most phonies don't think to fake this part of their behavior.

Sign 12: They'll Leave You When There's a Better Deal

Phonies are users by definition. They want to be in the social orbit of those who can offer them information, access, or resources. As long as you can do that, you'll be an attractive target for them.

Unfortunately, when there's a better deal to be had, you'll be dumped like yesterday's garbage because you're no longer useful. It's nothing personal, although it certainly feels that way.

You can't always avoid phony people, but you can learn the signs, thereby making yourself less prone to exploitation.

You can't always avoid phony people, but you can learn the signs, thereby making yourself less prone to exploitation.

Summary of the Dirty Dozen: 12 Signs You're Dealing with a Phony

As long as some people have what others want, there will be individuals who are willing to try to manipulate others by being inauthentic. Being fake or phony means that a person expresses attitudes, behaviors, and thoughts that aren't truly their own just to make themselves seem similar to the target they're trying to influence.

The best we can hope for is to be able to detect signs among potential business associates, dating partners, or friends that we're dealing with a phony person. By knowing these signs, we can be alert to potential exploitation, set healthy and appropriate boundaries, and adjust our expectations for the relationship.

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Questions & Answers

Question: When people behave in a fake manner, how can you avoid their fakeness?

Answer: Several ways to keep from becoming sucked into the drama of fake people include the following tips:

1) Don’t encourage their bragging because they love attention. Change the subject as soon as possible. Instead, barely acknowledge it.

2) Don’t confide in them or depend on them because you'll be disappointed.

3) Try to reduce your contact with them as much as possible.

4) Call their lies and distrustful behaviors out for what they are. Be plain and nonemotional and tell other people who might also be duped, so their charade is more difficult to pull off. There's also power in numbers.

Question: How do you deal with a person who fake smiles to your face but talks about you behind your back?

Answer: What's worked for me is direct confrontation. For example, "Steve, I understand that you've been saying that I (fill in rumor here). What problem do you have with me?" Depending on how well the conversation goes, they either apologize or I tell them to stop it/we're not cool anymore as long as they're doing that.

Question: What are ways to expose fake people who people always like?

Answer: There will always be fake people who desperately crave attention. Unfortunately, they sometimes behave in underhanded and unloyal ways in order to acquire the ego stroking they require.

When you make such people the passionate topic of your conversation by debating their merits and pointing out their weak points to others who are fans of theirs -- people to whom they have ingratiated themselves -- then you fight an uphill battle. Don't do this. Refuse to enter the fray.

Minimize contact with the fake person as much as possible, choosing apathy over frequency, familiarity, and intensity. When you must criticize, then just call them out by describing their behavior and not ruminating on it. Ultimately, it's not up to you to change people's minds. You just do you. If the fake person hoodwinks others, then so be it. You have enough on your plate to worry about.

Question: How do you get a fake person to stop talking to you?

Answer: Show very little interest in them by providing minimal eye contact, offering "closed" body language like crossed arms, making little conversation and only speaking when spoken to, avoiding sitting next to them, trying to sit elsewhere, texting or doing other things while they talk, and yawning. Don't answer their texts and try to show interest in other people instead of when they are around. It's better to give them a "slow fade" version of it.

Question: My friend acts nice when it’s just us. However, when she is among her other friends and I try to see if she is okay, she gets frustrated with me and behaves disrespectfully. I really hate that but don’t want to ruin the freaking friendship. What do I do to make my friend stop being rude to me in front of her other friends?

Answer: While we all behave somewhat differently when we are with different people, disrespect is unacceptable, particularly between friends. Don’t let this go without talking to her and trying to reach an understanding. You also mention that she’s frustrated with you. (I'm sure it's mutual at this point.) There may be something you’re doing that is irritating her. It’s best if you know what this is so that you might adjust your behavior accordingly.

Following are my recommendations for addressing this problem with her. Find a time when it’s just you and your friend and you can discuss the issue uninterrupted. Tell her what she means to you as a friend and that you hope she values your relationship as you do. Say that because the relationship is important to you, there is something that has been bothering you that you’d like to talk about. Do this in person for best results rather than via text, phone call, or a less personal method.

Next, describe the problem situation without casting blame. Keep your description and comments non-emotional, (i.e., to observable behavior you’ve noticed.) Encourage your friend to explain her frustration towards you and why she has resorted to tactics involving disrespect.

Question: Why do people act fake?

Answer: Fake people don't believe in themselves enough to behave in a genuine and authentic manner, expressing their own values, opinions, and perspectives. They fear rejection, judgment, and negative opinion. (They don't understand that no matter what, not everyone's gonna like you!)

Because they have such a hollow opinion of themselves and don't feel confident enough to share who they really are, they seek the safety of pandering to other people (i.e., bootlicking more powerful people, being two-faced). They try to build themselves up and get as much as they can because secretly they fear they don't deserve the attention or to have good things come their way.

Question: How can you tell if your friend is secretly spreading rumors?

Answer: Here are a couple of ideas for getting to the bottom of this dilemma:

1) When you hear a rumor you think your friend was involved in, ask the person who told them that gossip. Then try to trace it back to the source by asking each successive person who they heard the information from. You have to act quickly and decisively so that people don't have a chance to align cover stories.

2) Take a step back from your so-called friend. There are obvious trust issues between you. Reduce your availability, giving your friend a slow fade. If and when you do spend time together, do not discuss anything they can gossip about, including gossiping about other people. Do the rumors about you stop? Of course, if your friend is not the guilty party, then you have unnecessarily damaged your friendship.

3) Feed a small but juicy tidbit of information to one person only, the friend you believe is the one spreading rumors about you, and emphasize it's important to keep this secret. Make sure the make-believe information is not potentially damaging to anyone else, if it does get out. Then wait to see if you hear it back through the grapevine. Although it's a surefire method, I tend to disfavor this because then you become phony. However, this is up to you.

4) Confront your friend face-to-face, being sure you have waited for a time when the two of you are relaxed and have time to talk. Carefully watch their nonverbal reactions as well as their tone of voice and verbal cues. Be matter-of-fact by saying you have heard rumors about yourself that are hurtful. Ask whether they have any idea who might be behind the rumors. Let them respond, then ask why you have a sneaking suspicion that they are involved? Use the power of uncomfortable silence and let your friend rush to fill in the void. Be ready to also factually list your reasons for suspecting your friend. Know what you want in this relationship so you can issue an ultimatum, break off the friendship, work on re-establishing trust after they apologize, etc.

Yes, friends DO spread rumors about one another, even best friends. People aren't perfect, and they do betray one another or accidentally let information slip. Use the strategy or combination of strategies that are appropriate for you and your friendship.

Question: My friends keep leaving me out. What can I do to get them to include me again?

Answer: There's probably a ring leader motivating this campaign to ouster you from the friend group. Talk with him or her and say as nonconfrontationally as possible that you've noticed the group has started to exclude you from activities. Talk about how being excluded makes you feel (sad, left out, etc.) and how you feel about your friends (you miss them, etc.). Ask why they're excluding you and try to get the conversation going. The goal of this conversation should be to come up with behaviors between you that need changing. If this doesn't work, try to talk to another friend in the group and have the same conversation. If they still exclude you, at least you tried to resolve the problem.

Question: My best friend is always gossiping about me regarding personal stuff I do. I confronted her about it and she said she only gossips to people that I’m friends with. Is gossiping a sign of a fake friend?

Answer: She isn't showing genuine concern for your privacy. Friends shouldn't spread gossip around on each other, regardless of who it's to. Those mutual friends are probably further spreading rumors she told them about you.

Make sure you tell her that her behavior hurts you, violates your trust, and you do not want her to share your business gossiping with other friends, no matter what the intent. It's not respectful of your feelings or your privacy. If she's short on things to talk about with other people, she needs to try to be a more interesting conversationalist without resorting to gossip and selling out her best friend.

Do you spread rumors about her? If not, make that point. Also, be careful what sensitive information you share with her from now on. Then, if she repeats the gossiping after you've told her not to do it, then you have a decision on your hands: put up with her gossip or break off the friendship.

Best friends do not behave like this, and if they slip up and tell a secret they apologize.

Question: I have been friends with this girl for 10 weeks. One day she suddenly texted me that she doesn’t want to be friends anymore because her family says I am a backstabber. It didn’t make sense at all. I always spoke positively about her and felt betrayed about letting her become a part of my life. Was she a fake friend?

Answer: Your friend apparently trusts the information that her family provided more than she trusts her own instincts or her own judgment of other people. Maybe she has a history of bad decisions or there is a history of distrust within her family. Alternatively, maybe she wasn't being honest about something. I suspect there's a lot more to this friend than you know and the reason she gave may not be entirely true. That's just a hunch, so take it for what it is.

Question: Rather than responding to a statement I make, my partner repeats what I said. For example, I say “I love you,” and my partner responds by repeating it as a question, “you love me?” Is this a sign of him just being phony or is it a sign he doesn’t care?

Answer: Once or twice in a cute, playful way is one thing. However, if a person does this regarding your feelings and thoughts on a regular basis, you need to call a relationship time out and have a serious conversation. Ask why he does this and whether he does this with everyone. Tell him how it makes you feel, and ask him to stop the immature behavior immediately. I suspect that he doesn't do this regarding every opinion or statement you make but tends to do it regarding emotional content. I'd bet he feels uncomfortable expressing feelings or else he just doesn't feel that way about you. Get to the bottom of this, even if it hurts. Even if your discussion leads to a breakup that's better than existing with a shallow emotional connection which is what you have now.

Question: I have this friend, and she is super fake. I want to hang out with others, but she won’t let me. She’ll only let me stick with her. How can I tell her to let me mix around with others?

Answer: I'm concerned about your words, "She won't let me." That's not accurate. You won't allow yourself.

You've handed your personal decision making over to this girl you don't seem to have a lot of fondness for. Take your power back and stop confusing what is difficult or personally awkward (telling her you want to be around other people) with what you are forbidden to do. Yes, there will be consequences, like she will get upset, but you can handle that, right?

Tell her, "Sally, I've arranged to sit with my other friends at lunch today. You can join in if you'd like, but I'm just giving you a heads-up." Do not negotiate, allow her to threaten or intimidate you, or get upset if she gives you the silent treatment trying to change your mind. There's a reason she doesn't mix well with the others, and I suspect it may be her poor social skills. Is it possible they are on to her? You don't need to explain to her why you want to be with a variety of others. You're young. It's just fun to mix things up and be around different people.

Don't let your peers call your shots. Broaden your social horizons beyond this so-called friend but leave open the possibility that she might just grow as well.

© 2018 FlourishAnyway

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