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:
- Budget Shenanigans: Swaps
- When projects run over budget, managers face a temptation to use creative accounting to address the
problem. The budget swap is one technique for making ends meet. It distorts organizational data, and
it's just plain unethical.
- 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.
- Email Ethics
- Ethics is the system of right and wrong that forms the foundation of civil society. Yet, when a new
technology arrives, explicitly extending the ethical code seems necessary — no matter how civil
the society. And so it is with email.
- Difficult Decisions
- Some decisions are difficult because they trigger us emotionally. They involve conflicts of interest,
yielding to undesirable realities, or possibly pain and suffering for the deciders or for others. How
can we make these emotionally difficult decisions with greater clarity and better outcomes?
- Availability and Self-Assessments
- In many organizations, employees develop self-assessments as a part of the performance review process.
Because of a little-known effect related to the Availability Heuristic, these self-assessments can be
biased against the employee.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 8: The New Virtual Meeting: Digressions
- The bane of meetings everywhere, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, has been digressions. But there are reasons to expect the incidence of digressions in meetings to increase now. What reasons could there be, and what can we do about digressions? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
- And on April 15: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 15.
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- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.
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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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