Have you ever told a lie? Never. Oh, really? Well, maybe once or twice as a kid, but it was a little one just to avoid being punished or to keep a friend out of trouble. The truth is that we are all liars at one point or another. If the point of your communication is to deceive, then you should be concerned. Don’t worry about getting caught, worry about what you are already caught up in. Lying distorts reality through omission or commission, and even when you can claim the end justifies the means, it is the act of defending falsehood which sullies your soul. A few falsehoods will undoubtedly find their way into your presentations through exaggerations, defenses and oversights. The challenge is to see them for what they are and not what you wish them to be.
“Lying is done with words and also with silence.”
– Adrienne Rich
There are basically two forms of lies: omission, purposely leaving something unsaid, and commission, saying something false as if it were true. Lying is often justified by its severity. On one end is the “innocent” white lie, and on the other end is malicious deception. The trouble is that the degree does not change the fiction into fact. We can’t know everything, so our ignorance can lead us to speak falsely. This is unfortunate but it is not lying. It is embarrassing to be corrected by your audience, which should inspire you to prepare as thoroughly as possible for every presentation. But how you respond, defensively or considerately, reveals your relationship with the truth. When you confuse the reality of your ignorance with what is real, and start protecting your point of view, your presentation can turn into a confrontation.
“Lying to ourselves is more deeply
ingrained than lying to others”
– Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The instinct to protect yourself is hardwired. The trouble comes when your biological drive to survive confronts your psychological desire to be right. Lying is often an attempt to protect others from an unpleasant truth, which is really your attempt to avoid acknowledging this truth. Speaking tactfully is the art of conveying a truth, in the most pleasant way possible. Being tactful with yourself is difficult since the urge to deny what you despise inside yourself is easily hidden by lying. Lying to ourselves is not only possible, it is insidious. Speakers often miss the psychological sweet spot of reality by berating their own efforts, claiming that they could or should have done better; or, by blaming the audience for their confusion and defending their presentation. The truth is a paradox, you can do better (next time) and you did your best (this time).
“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction.
Fiction has to make sense.”
– Mark Twain
Lying distorts your reality. It is hard enough to figure out what you know and what you don’t. Entertaining presentations often contain humorous exaggerations. You smile and laugh because you know they can’t be true, even though, they point to emotional truth. Saying, “There were a million people in line” conveys that the line was longer than your patience. On the scale of severity exaggerations lie next to the little “white” lie. Embellishing the truth may enhance a story but embellishing facts turns them into fiction. Friction within yourself, inevitably, results when you know what you say is a stranger to what is.
Your innate defenses become offenses against reality by omitting what you know and committing to what you know isn’t so. You may never speak the whole truth and nothing but the truth out of ignorance, but it is a tangled web you weave when you deceive yourself.