Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 34;   August 25, 2004:

Some Truths About Lies: II

by

Knowing when someone else is lying doesn't make you a more ethical person, but it sure can be an advantage if you want to stay out of trouble. Here's Part II of a catalog of techniques misleaders use.
The silhouette of a famous fictional detective

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

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 nonspecialist, 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.
Diversions
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 Go to top Top  Next issue: The Power of Presuppositions  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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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When I gain an important insight, or when I learn a lesson, I write it down. Here's Part IV from my personal collection. Example: When it comes to disputes and confusion, one person is enough.

See also Ethics at Work and Workplace Bullying for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

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In many organizations, technical debt has resisted efforts to control it. We've made important technical advances, but full control might require applying some results of the behavioral economics community, including a concept they call mental accounting. Available here and by RSS on June 1.
A goose and goslingsAnd on June 8: Flexible Queue Management
In meetings of 5-30 participants, managing the queue of contributors can be challenging. A strict first-in-first-out order can cause confusion and waste of time if important contributions are delayed. Some meetings need more flexible queue management. Available here and by RSS on June 8.

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