We're all capable of lying, and for many, not a day passes without a little practice in this oldest of arts. Most of us lie only to avoid social discomfort. Far more rare is the lie told to destroy the reputation of another, or to conceal a theft or other illicit activity.
In the workplace, skill in detecting these more insidious lies gives you substantial advantages. When you notice a lie, you have choices — you can confront the misleader, you can offer a way out, or you can let the lie lie.
Here's Part II of a catalog of ploys misleaders use to make us believe something they don't. Check out Part I.
- Unnecessarily technical jargon
- Technical jargon or legalese can confuse the non-specialist, especially if the key words have subtle, specific meaning. Ask for a restatement in plain language.
- Implied endorsement
- To lend their messages authority while limiting risk, misleaders sometimes imply, but don't actually assert, that someone authoritative believes the message. Watch for implications.
- Photographic evidence
- Photographic evidence isn't evidence anymore. In the hands of a professional, Adobe Photoshop or other similar programs can do magic, but most of us still believe pictures unquestioningly. Seeing is not necessarily believing.
- Technically arcane evidence
- A message is especially
suspect if it contains
appeals to your own
biases, beliefs and wishes
- Believe technical evidence only if you have access to a truly independent expert. Don't believe the presenter. If you believe that you are an expert, you're especially vulnerable to this technique.
- Circular reasoning
- Circular reasoning can "justify" almost anything. Though useful, this technique is risky because most listeners can easily detect circularity. To manage the risk, misleaders put lots of "hops" in the circular chain, which conceals the circularity from all but the most persistent, intelligent and disciplined listeners.
- A new face
- It's easier to lie to someone who doesn't know your "baseline" behavior. It's also hard to lie to people you care about. When someone you know well brings in a new face to deliver the message, consider the possibility that the purpose is deception.
- Excessive consistent detail
- The truth is rarely consistent. When the message contains far more detail than you normally see in similar representations, you might be on the receiving end of a "blizzard" strategy. Be especially wary of detail that you cannot possibly verify.
- Vicious attacks on third parties
- Vicious, bullying, bitter attacks on a third party might be a way to deflect attention from the matter at hand. Steer the conversation back to the real issue.
- Arbitrary or unnatural distractions, subject changes and deflections could be attempts to distract you from the issue. They can take the form of entertainment, excessive use of graphics, humor, tall tales, offers of lodging, food or drink, scenery, personal disclosures, congratulations or inquiries about your personal life or health.
Skill in noticing these techniques also has a disadvantage — you'll have difficulty using them yourself. Hmm. Maybe that's a good thing. First in this series | Next in this series Top Next Issue
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
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More articles on Ethics at Work:
- Some Truths About Lies: I
- 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.
- Virtual Termination with Real Respect
- When we have to terminate someone who works at a remote site, sometimes there's a temptation to avoid
travel — to use email, phone, fax, or something else. They're all bad ideas. Terminating people
in person is not only a gesture of respect. It's good business.
- Telephonic Deceptions: II
- Deception at work probably wasn't invented at work. Most likely it is a continuation of deception in
the rest of life. But the technologies of the modern workplace offer new opportunities to practice the
art. Here's Part II of a handy guide for telephonic self-defense.
- Appearance Antipatterns: I
- Appearances can be deceiving. Just as we can misinterpret the actions and motivations of others, others
can misinterpret our own actions and motivations. But we can take steps to limit these effects.
- Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments,
disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance
and the substance of things can help.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
- And on December 25: Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk. Available here and by RSS on December 25.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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