Four ways to lie and why they’re a crisis management risk

Erik Bernstein crisis communications Leave a Comment

Don’t let dishonesty creep into your communications

Lying is a funny thing. While it’s widely accepted that purposely stating something that isn’t true is classified as a lie and wrong to do, people convince themselves that other forms of lying aren’t so bad. As a kid I was told there are four ways to lie, usually after I dropped what I thought was a clever explanation in an attempt to pull the wool over my father’s eyes….

  1. Lies of commission. This is what most people would define as a ‘lie’. This type of lie is stating something that’s simply not true. It may have a grain of truth, but whatever’s coming out has been twisted to suit the liar’s purpose.
  2. Lies of omission. To omit is to ‘leave out’. You hear these a lot from toddlers, and from politicians. Many stories take a completely different slant when one or two key facts are removed than they would if the full tale was told.
  3. Lies of exaggeration. The flip side of our previous lie, these bring in added or inflated information to push a specific agenda. In a fish tale it’s cute, when you’re communicating about a real issue not so much.
  4. Lies of obfuscation. This is another favorite of the very young and the politically inclined. When you’re evasive, unclear, or obscure in the telling of facts you are obfuscating the truth.

While the majority won’t come out with a direct lie of commission in a crisis situation, we frequently iron omission, exaggeration, and obfuscation out of communications proposed by clients. It’s not that we’re not talking nefarious bad guys here, but some degree of lying seems to come naturally to humans when we think about minimizing the impact of bad news.

Here’s the deal – people are wise to this. In fact, these days they’re looking for anything that even might be untrue in any and all communications surrounding a negative event. One of the keys to mitigating damage from a crisis is to not create more issues, and when someone spots you trying to lie even a little bit they’ll take great joy in making sure others know. It’s just not worth the risk.

Erik Bernstein


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