3 Indicators Someone is Lying to You: Be A Better Business Communicator

lyingpic2If you smell smoke, it might mean someone’s pants are on fire. In the last post, I asked you to think about whether or not those smoking pants are yours. After all, we all lie. Sometimes egregiously, sometimes well meaning, but it isn’t the road to Heaven that’s paved by good intentions. So intentions aside, we all lie. By definition, that means that someone at some point is lying to you.  If we are going to have productive business communications, we need to recognize when someone is being less than honest.

We can work on ourselves to be better communicators and more effective leaders by working to find the simple truth so we can be comfortable believing the truth is good enough on its own. However, there is still another side of the communication. I’d love to be so sanguine as to say that if we lead by example, we will hopefully give others the incentive to also be so thoughtful, but I cannot. It isn’t because I’m being pessimistic, but rather saying that would represent a complete bastardization of this entire message.

Lying is beyond prolific. In many forms it is not only the accepted norm but so often it is excused under the guise of being ‘diplomatic.’ It is a fallacy to say that we can influence what someone else is going to say to us. So the best we can do is at least be able to recognize when someone is lying to us so we can interact appropriately. The number one spark of conflict personally and professionally is perceived misinformation, which can very quickly build into an uncontrollable inferno. So, while we may not have any control over someone else starting a fire, we can at least make all efforts to suck the oxygen from it by recognizing the spark in the first place and extinguishing it before it turns into flame!

So if you are smelling some ‘smoke,’ and want to figure out if someone’s pants are indeed on fire, here are my three lying indicators:

  1. Distraction by Rationalization
  2. List Making
  3. (my personal favorite) The Statement: “It’s Complex.”
  1. Distraction by Rationalization: Boy did Shakespeare nail it so profoundly when he wrote, “Me think thou doth protest too much!” If you ask someone a clear and straightforward question, then the answer should be commensurately simple and concise. However, more often than not we get an answer that starts with a litany of rationalizations and defensive excuses. For instance, suppose I was to ask a question as simple as, “What were our total sales for last quarter?” All too often I get an answer that starts out like this: “Well…so…remember that we had our marketing budget significantly cut, one of our key customers was being really difficult thought no fault of ours, and took a lot of our resources….” This question (as most well asked questions) asked or maybe even begged for an unassuming, simple number, but the respondent is often so concerned by the potential judgment of the simple truth that they list their defenses in hopes of distracting you from noticing that you didn’t even get an answer. I have often had to put my hand up in protest before the recitation of rationalizations is even near complete, and simply say, please don’t defend yourself before you’ve even put forth something that might not even merit a defense. And then try to ask the question again including Dragnet (“Just the facts, Mam”) clarity: “I would just like the dollar figure.” The truth is, the answer is likely sufficient for the train of thought it is being used for regardless of the potential implications. Ironically, there may have been no other intent for scrutiny but for the rationalizations, which actually instigate a dubiousness that would not have even arisen in the first place!
  1. List Making: Just as Shakespeare had it right about rationalization, I’ve got to go with Jake Blues (John Belushi’s character in Blues Brothers) when confronted with his ex-fiancé who he had abandoned at the alter. After chasing him down in death defying acts of terror the entire movie, she finally catches up with him and begs at gunpoint: ‘why?’ In response, he puts forth an exhaustive list of excuses in the desperate hope that just one them would be believed and give her pause to spare his life: “I ran out of gas! I got a flat tire! I didn’t have change for cab fare! I lost my tux at the cleaners! I locked my keys in the car! An old friend came in from out of town! Someone stole my car! There was an earthquake! A terrible flood! Locusts! IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!” No one ever wants to take responsibility for his or her actions anymore. Particularly, when you genuinely don’t want to admit and accept what you’ve done for your own selfish indulgence or gain. Thus, the making of a list is an easier though unnecessarily convoluted response when a simple ‘mea culpa’ would do just fine. But, if the list is compelling then maybe, just maybe, you will be lucky enough that one of the items will be believed.

List making is often a component of and even a complement to rationalization. List making is extremely prolific when the respondent fears divulging the real reason. Let’s take a subtler, but no less culpable instance, “are you coming to the party?” And the response is, well…I’m not sure, things are ‘crazy’ right now. I have people coming into town. My kids have activities. Work is really intense…etc.” The likely truth of the matter is that this person doesn’t want to go, but isn’t comfortable saying ‘no’…or more likely, they are saying ‘maybe, but I’m waiting for something better to come along.’

  1. Saying ‘It’s Complex:’ The truth is that there are very few things in this world (personal or professional) that are genuinely so complicated that an intelligent and thoughtful person cannot put them into simple terms. Even some of the most sophisticated mathematical and statistical algorithms can be easily explained to a layperson by either a pithy analogous story or a simple drawing on a piece of paper. More often than not, answering a question with ‘it’s complex’ is code for ‘don’t ask me anymore.’ Either the person is too insecure or otherwise fearful of saying ‘I don’t know,’ or they feel compelled to evade and distract from the genuine answer. So rather than tell the truth, one may offer an often-effective diversion by implicating that it is beyond the inquirer’s comprehension. This tactic is not only condescending, but it is generally done to cover up some egregious error that the person saying it has made which has likely contributed to the complexity of the situation in the first place.

Voluminous examples of the ‘it’s complex’ technique are found in the US government. Candidates for public office are often asked questions about the US economy, and the respondent will often deflect the question by saying, “Well, it’s complex.” The US economy, whether discussing its current state, potential solutions, or the history of how it came to be in the state it is in isn’t actually complicated.  However, the truth of simply answering any of those questions, while not complex, are almost certainly unpopular and/or negatively provocative. And you don’t have to have to be a political strategist to know that preaching something unpopular and almost certainly contentious will abruptly end any chance at election to the office being sought, thus quashing any potential efficacy in rectifying the very issues the populous demands.

The truth is often simple. If we have the courage to accept it, a level of transparency can be achieved that will allow for great productivity. However, we operate in such a fearful and hyper-judgmental society that few have the courage to seek and stand by the truth. Just as I say to my own ‘lieutenants’ as well as my children over and over again: Most of life isn’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’ it just ‘is’…so as soon as we discard all of the unnecessary time and resources trying to constantly and fallaciously influence things in order to allocate and label it as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’…only when we only when we can reconcile ourselves to the ‘it’ rather than try to control and manipulate ‘it’, can we have clarity of thought to optimally utilize our precious resources to create value.

This year, can we stop being so damn feckless and resolve to tell the truth?!

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