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
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More articles on Ethics at Work:
- Approval Ploys
- 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.
- Extrasensory Deception: II
- In negotiating agreements, the partners who do the drafting have an ethical obligation not to exploit
the advantages of the drafting role. Some drafters don't meet that standard.
- Telephonic Deceptions: I
- People have been deceiving each other at work since the invention of work. Nowadays, with telephones
ever-present, telephonic deceptions are becoming more creative. Here's Part I of a handy guide for telephonic
- Some Truths About Lies: III
- Detecting lies by someone intent on misrepresentation is an important skill for executives, managers,
project managers, and just about anyone involved in knowledge-oriented organizations. Here's Part III
of our little collection of lie detection techniques.
- Some Truths About Lies: IV
- Extended interviews provide multiple opportunities for detecting lies by people intent on deception.
Here's Part IV of our little collection of lie detection techniques.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
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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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