Ever since I was little I’ve been a truth teller. My mom used to joke that I couldn’t lie. I don’t recall telling the truth as something that was routinely hammered into my sister and me, so I’m not sure where my emphasis on the truth came from. And, despite a serious look I naturally display, I have no poker face. I think it’s an example of my body aligning with the core belief that telling the truth is important.
This jumped out at me when I watched a news segment recently where Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren was in an impromptu conversation with a Chicago resident about school choice. The resident said while people like Warren had the option of sending their kids to private school most people don’t really have that choice. Looking somewhat uncomfortable (like most politicians when they go off script) Warren responded saying her kids went to public school. Not an entirely true statement.
Warren’s daughter went to public school and so did her son but only through fifth grade. After that he attended private school. Warren’s answer gives her wiggle room but it was not an entirely true statement. I’m sure that Chicago resident would have pushed back had she known Warren’s son had a private education sixth grade through high school.
This approach to “truth telling” is by no means limited to Warren. There are plenty of fact checks daily on President Trump’s statements. We saw it when President Obama said dozens of times that people would be able to keep their current doctor under Obamacare. President Bush made many statements about the war in Iraq that were less than truthful. And let’s not forget Bill Clinton wagging his finger at the television cameras as he told Americans, “I didn’t have sexual relations with that woman,” referring to Monica Lewinsky.
Forgive me if I tell you, I hardly believe a word that comes out of politician’s mouths these days. After 55 trips around the sun I’m very jaded when it comes to what people will say and do when power is on the line.
Lying by Commission
This takes place when you knowingly tell a falsehood. It doesn’t matter what your motive is, lying is lying. When you stretch the true as a means to your own ends, say what you will but you’re a manipulator.
Some do this because they think people can’t handle the truth. That’s a lack of respect. Imagine someone saying to you, “I would have told you the truth but I didn’t think you could handle it.” How would you feel? What you do with the truth, how you handle it, is up to you.
Lying by Omission
This is when you know something would impact a person’s decision in a way you don’t like so you decide not to bring it up. In other words, you knowingly omit the truth.
Let’s say I’m selling my house and there’s a big crack in the basement floor. Knowing this might change your decision to buy, or at least reduce the price you offer, I put a huge area rug over the crack and hope you don’t ask about it.
How will you feel if you buy the house then discover the crack? If you confront me about the crack and I say, “You didn’t ask about it,” I doubt you’ll think I was truthful. No matter what I might tell myself, I know deep down I wasn’t truthful because the truth would have changed your decision.
Truth Telling, Trust Building
When you admit a weakness or shortcoming in your offer, you can actually gain credibility because you’re seen as trustworthy. After admitting a weakness, the key is to then transition to something positive. In the case of Elizabeth Warren, she could have answered the Chicago resident as follows:
“I understand your frustration with public education. I say that because my daughter attended public school through high school. My son did so through fifth grade then we decided to put him in a private school. Because of that experience I’m well aware of the difference between a public and private education. I agree that it’s not fair only a select few can get a better education. My pledge is to change that.”
To Do This Week
Don’t lie. Instead, commit to being a truth teller. When there’s something that might be viewed as a weakness in your offer, bring it up early. After that, segue to the best parts of what you have to offer. Do so and you’ll feel better about yourself, gain credibility, and be known as a person with good character. I’ll leave you with a quote from the Greek philosopher Aristotle, “Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.”
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, international speaker, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet when it comes to the science of ethical influence.
Brian’s first book – Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical – has been one of the top 10 selling Amazon books in several insurance categories and cracked the top 50 in sales & selling.
Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses have been viewed by more than 85,000 people around the world! His newest course – Advanced Persuasive Selling: Persuading Different Personalities – is now available through LinkedIn Learning.