Liar, Liar Pants on Fire

Published: Dec 17 , 2015
Author: Alan Smith

Is there a difference between telling lies or just being misleading?

I guess lying, rather like beauty, may be in the eye of the beholder.

"I want you to listen to me. I'm going to say this again - I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."

Was this the most blatant lie in modern times? Or had Bill Clinton somehow convinced himself, when he uttered those memorable words in 1998, that his physical relationship with Monica Lewinsky did not constitute "sexual relations"?

Even if we grant that generous interpretation, his proclamation was, according to any usual understanding of "sexual relations", certainly misleading.

These days, if a politician is caught in an outright lie - claiming something to be true which he or she knows to be false - it can be political suicide. At the very least it can prove highly damaging.

The practice of misleading often works through what philosophers call "conversational implicature". When we communicate with one another, there are a set of background rules which govern the meaning of our sentences.

An example; “We want you to drop your price as you are certainly not the cheapest option”. The suggestion being that the best price may be the selection criteria, however as most of would recognise that may not be the case.

In the cut and thrust of negotiations, being misleading and even lying seems to be a common. We see it in the classroom all the time despite the fact that often people are being filmed and recognize that their lies will be named and shamed.

Indeed, most negotiators accept that lying and misleading are part of the game. A study at Kellogg Business School asked groups if they felt they had been lied to in a negotiation, 40% said yes. 20% said that they regularly lied to gain advantage, I think that they were lying!

So what do we do?

Well careful about deliberately lying or misleading. If you get caught out rather like the disgraced politician you may never be trusted again.

If you feel you are being lied too, check to see that the behaviour is consistent with the lie. If they say that all your competitors are cheaper for the same quality and service, why are they even talking to you?

There is either some other source of power they are misleading you about, or just a good old fashioned lie has been outed.

Alan Smith


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