PEOPLE often exaggerate to make a good strong point or story. A friend of mine opened the lid to the toilet bowl in her bathroom to discover a swimming squirrel. Slamming the lid down, she called a pest control agency to come to the rescue.
And it was amazing, she later acknowledged, how large that squirrel seemed when she first saw it compared to how small it actually was when the pest control representative pulled it out.
Likewise, in a serious business setting, exaggeration happens in numerous ways. What is the difference between lies, half-truths, omissions and cover-ups?
True — but incomplete — statements can lead to false conclusions. Literal truth, when offered without complete explanation, can lead to literal lies. Knowing smiles accompanied by long silences can elicit wrong conclusions.
Intentions are on the centre stage here. Ultimately, questionable intentions in your communications cast doubt about character and culture — yours and that of your organisation.
There are other ways to lie unintentionally—through outdated data, opinions and stereotypes. With information overload, data more than two or three years old cannot support your decisions or product designs. Consequently, you have to re-collect, re-survey and re-test to stay current.
Sometimes, the better you understand something, the worse job you do in explaining it — your familiarity makes you careless in describing it.
Ambiguity creeps in when you least expect it. Meanings depend on context, tone, timing, personal experience and reference points.
Back in the days when copier equipment was said to “burn copies”, an army colonel hand-carried an important document to his new assistant and asked her to burn a copy.
When the paper did not resurface on his desk in a few days, he discovered that the assistant had recently transferred from a high-security division. She had had the document incinerated.
The best test of clarity is the result you see. Doublespeak is intentionally meant to obscure rather than enlighten with convoluted details and irrelevant facts creating a confusing image.
A financial consultant related this situation to me about her firm: “We have two boilerplate formats for our reports to clients. When we go into banks and find several ways we can help them, we use the first format. That report gives our findings and list of recommendations right up front.
“But if we go into banks and can’t find much wrong — we don’t have many recommendations for improvements and have charged them a big fee for the audit — then we use the second boilerplate.
“We begin the report with background on our company, the credentials of our auditors, the various audit procedures used, and then we finally get around to the findings and recommendations.”
She ended with: “But I don’t think we fool anybody.”
She is right. Confusing people only brings into question one’s intentions. As a person of integrity, you need to put aside lying — in all its forms. Your challenge is to be complete, be current and be clear. The result? Credibility.