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Volume 4, Issue 34;   August 25, 2004: Some Truths About Lies: II

Some Truths About Lies: II

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

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 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.
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

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When we bias organizational decisions to manage our personal risks, we're sometimes acting ethically — and sometimes not. What can we do to limit personal risk management?
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See also Ethics at Work and Workplace Bullying for more related articles.

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Avoiding tasks we regard as unpleasant, boring, or intimidating is a pattern known as procrastination. Perfectionism is another pattern. The interplay between the two makes intervention a bit tricky. Available here and by RSS on August 21.
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Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize, to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean. Available here and by RSS on August 28.

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