Can lies be justifiably used to improve communication?
Only one part of communication is about getting the point across, the other crucial part is being believed. We can say whatever is on our mind, but if the information disseminated is not accepted because it is not credible, have we really communicated?
“Trust me, I lie” may be the most paradoxically honest statement in the world. Everyone lies -- the difference is in the shade of the misinformation.
In the spectrum of lies, the “white” lie is considered the least damaging but probably the most prolific in practice. We sell white lies to ourselves as a magnanimous effort on our parts to keep others from some presumed hurt that we feel the truth may inflict.
Simple excuses to get out of a social engagement or display of appreciation for some unwanted favour or gift. Harmless in the face of it until those white lies graduate into a slightly darker shade and become broken promises.
However, whether it be white lies or broken promises, if caught too many times, it affects one’s credibility on a personal relationship level. Hardly safe, if relationships matter.
The other shades grower darker as it progresses -- from error (of understanding), omission (of facts), minimization (of fault), exaggeration (of knowledge, experience or value), distortion (of details), and, most deplorably, the (outright) deception.
None of these shades hold any real value in professional communication -- no one wants to feel that they were duped. Most leaders of industry side on committing the lies of “omission” because truthfully, sometimes every detail cannot be shared.
But then this practice can also build credibility if recipients are informed that all the information cannot be shared (for whatever reason) and that the details will be forthcoming if or when the need arises.
In my experience, as rule, people in positions of authority have to lie on occasion. For every statement or position presented, there is always a counterpoint.
As a result, formal communication needs to be structured and presented in the most credible way by the most recognizably and widely accepted credible source for it to have proper effect.
Which means that a spokesperson needs to build credibility first. This is something corporations or big businesses often miss in their rage for the bottomline -- after all they are rarely accountable to the general public for misdemeanours or miscommunications.
The higher up you are in an organization the fatter the cheque you are provided when asked to leave on the of lie that is exposed because most companies rarely air their dirty laundry out for all to see. The cycle breeds contempt and emasculates credibility when it is needed most.
Politicians generally lie; but when they do so, they lie through omission, minimization, exaggeration, or dis-tortion -- rarely more than two shades. To save their political careers they probably never use all the shades in one communique, and definitely never use outright deception (unless, of course, they are among the high up in a dictatorship).
A classic example of things turning on its head is American president Donald Trump. One would not be too far off for suggesting that the US president falls on outright deception as his default -- he was, after all, a businessman before becoming an accidental politician and president.
His very election win could have been more a breakdown in people’s trust of the “traditional” politician than his actual charisma or competence. His behaviour, showcased by the Iran predicament, is actually the result of the legacy effect from big corporations not feeling accountable to the general public for misdemeanours or miscommunications.
What’s unfortunate is that as the American president, his relative impunity in getting away with such beha-viour impacts the world at large, encouraging others to do the same and spurring on copycat profligate be-haviour on a global scale.
When the truth is so embroiled in the lies, it makes the professional communicator’s job to tie in the narrative that much harder. Case in point would be Trump’s communication team.
Playing easy with the facts when it comes to communication is like playing with fire.
Generally, as a neutral position, people want to believe those in places of authority -- but the credibility of the individual is on test every time they speak. If caught out, people in authority rarely ever overcome the skepticism that is released.
“To be persuasive, we must be believable. To be believable, we must be credible. To be credible we must be truthful.” -- Edward R Murrow, American journalist.
Talat Kamal is a PR and communications consultant with more than 24 years of experience in corporate and media communications. He can be reached at [email protected]