Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 31;   August 4, 2004: Some Truths About Lies: Part I

Some Truths About Lies: Part I

by

However ethical you might be, you can't control the ethics of others. Can you tell when someone knowingly tries to mislead you? Here's Part I of a catalog of techniques misleaders use.
The silhouette of a famous fictional detective

Silhouette of Sherlock Holmes © The Sherlock Holmes Museum, London.

Much is known about the behaviors associated with lying. Indicators include patterns in voice, facial expressions, eye movements and so on. Unfortunately, most of this information is so fleeting and the movements are so rapid that accurate analysis often requires great skill, or audio or video equipment, or both.

To detect distortion, lies, or spin in most workplace situations, we need real-time analysis without such equipment. And we can get exactly that if we pay attention to the content and structure of the message, including what is said, what is not said, and how it is said or not said.

Here's Part I of a little catalog of ploys people use to make us believe something they don't. Check out Part II.

A message is especially
suspect if it contains
appeals to your own
biases, beliefs and wishes
Biases, beliefs, and wishes
We all have biases, beliefs and wishes. Those who know what yours are can use them to make their messages more acceptable to you. A message is especially suspect if it contains appeals to your own biases, beliefs and wishes.
Excessive qualification
Some statements contain qualifications that sound like they're added for emphasis, but actually provide the misleader some safety through hidden restriction. For example, "The Congressman states unequivocally that he was not present in that meeting at 10 AM." Oh? Was he there at 10:01?
Consistent ambiguity
This technique usually entails restating an assertion several times in different ways, but always with enough ambiguity to protect the misleader from being caught in a lie.
Letting something be discovered
In this technique, the misleader hides one lie behind another. People usually assume that when they pull off the topmost false layer, the layer that's exposed is true. If you catch someone in a lie, don't assume that the next story is true.
Truth is stranger than fiction
Because most misleaders aren't gutsy enough to lie implausibly, they use plausibility as a disguise. If what you're hearing seems plausible, consider the possibility that it's a lie. If it's implausible, it might be wrong, but it's less likely to be a lie.
Wiggle room
Watch for ambiguity of the kind that could provide the misleader "wiggle room" through which to escape if caught. People who tell the truth need no wiggle room.
The message is contained in the words of another
When the essence of the tale is carried in the words of a third party, the teller can claim that he or she was misunderstood in paraphrasing taken out of context. And if found out, the teller didn't lie if the third party actually did speak the reported words.

When you detect a lie, you have a choice. You can confront the misleader, you can offer a way out, or you can let the lie lie. Choose wisely. Next in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Films Not About Project Teams: Part II  Next Issue

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More articles on Ethics at Work:

Mark Twain in 1907When You're Scared to Tell the Truth
In the project context, we need to know that whatever we're hearing from colleagues is the truth as they see it. Yet, sometimes we shade the truth, or omit important details. Here's a list of some of the advantages of telling the truth.
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If you approve or evaluate proposals or requests made by others, you've probably noticed patterns approval seekers use to enhance their success rates. Here are some tactics approval seekers use.

See also Ethics at Work and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

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Ramblers are people who can't get to the point. They ramble, they get lost in detail, and listeners can't follow their logic, if there is any. How can you deal with ramblers while maintaining civility and decorum? Available here and by RSS on April 5.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2016And on April 12: How to Listen to Someone Who's Dead Wrong
Sometimes we must listen attentively to someone with whom we strongly disagree. The urge to interrupt can be overpowering. How can we maintain enough self-control to really listen? Available here and by RSS on April 12.

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