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 Top Next Issue
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More articles on Ethics at Work:
- You Have to Promise Not to Tell a Soul
- You're at lunch with one of your buddies, who's obviously upset. You ask why. "You have to promise
not to tell a soul," is the response. You promise. And there the trouble begins.
- Workplace Politics vs. Integrity
- A reader wrote recently of wanting to learn "to effectively participate in office politics without
compromising my integrity." It sometimes seems that those who succeed in workplace politics must
know how to descend to the blackest depths, and still sleep at night. Must we abandon our integrity
to participate in workplace politics?
- It Might Be Legal, but It's Unethical
- Now that CEOs will be held personally accountable for statements they make about their organizations,
we can all expect to be held to higher standards of professional ethics. Some professions have formal
codes of ethics, but most don't. What ethical principles guide you?
- When You Aren't Supposed to Say: III
- Most of us have information that's "company confidential," or even more sensitive than that.
Sometimes people who want to know what we know try to suspend our ability to think critically. Here
are some of their techniques.
- The Attributes of Political Opportunity: The Finer Points
- Opportunities come along even in tough times. But in tough times like these, it's especially important
to sniff out true opportunities and avoid high-risk adventures. Here are some of the finer points to
assist you in your detective work.
See also Ethics at Work and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
- And on June 21: Asking Burning Questions
- When we suddenly realize that an important question needs answering, directly asking that question in a meeting might not be an effective way to focus the attention of the group. There are risks. Fortunately, there are also ways to manage those risks. Available here and by RSS on June 21.
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