Speak for Yourself

Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!

Would you believe?

Credibility in  public life is a theme that’s been having a good run, what with Thomson and Slipper and Murdoch/Brooks/ Leveson, and our  daily reminder from Abbot  that you can’t believe Labor.

Australians are used to thinking of politics as a grubby business, where promises mean  little and decisions are expedient.  The Prime Minister just backed herself with a quote from Bismarck (!) saying  “Politics is not a pretty business”. What a surprise then, to discover  in Why Leaders Lie, The Truth About Lying in International Politics   that while a politician might very  well lie to their own people (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman”), lying across borders  is much less common. “Outright deceit is difficult to pull off and thus rarely worth the effort”.

Given this climate of cynicism and doubt, why were Thomson’s denials so troubling?  The way the Health Services Union is looking, maybe Thomson comes from a world where to be truthful would make you the crazy one. The evidence-based confrontation by Laurie Oakes was perhaps a new experience.

George Costanza -who I quoted yesterday,  was helping Jerry cheat a polygraph.  It didn’t work (yes, Jerry had been watching Melrose Place).  But fast-forward  to the TV present and Homeland. The polygraph is again at the heart of a modern parable.  This plot is one for a traumatised world. How can I be sure who to believe and to trust? How do I know my instincts are right? (Given that I’m bipolar/have an Achilles heel/have lied to stay alive and  learned to see the merit in a culture not my own?)

Worrying we’re being misled is powerfully unsettling. We know we are prey to the deceivers of the world. The big question is “what can I do to keep  safe?”

There  is a HUGE amount of psychological research into lying. At the easy-to-read end, Forbes has this 10 step guide to help you tell the difference between your honest bloke and your creepy crook.  Time Magazine reviewed mechanical deception busters and the persistent tease of the polygraph – which, like those mail order  x-ray glasses of yesteryear, continues to fascinate us even though we know  it can’t really work.  It seems George is onto something:  “The best liars tend to be the least troubled by their dissembling and produce the fewest outward clues”.  It’s Catch 22. The liars don’t exhibit signs of lying  and  pass the test, but the truthful person  is so affected by  the polygraph that they do exhibit signs of lying and fail the test. Perhaps this means we aren’t too clear about the signs of lying.

In a disconcerting study of criminal interrogaters: “I’m Innocent!”observers were unable to distinguish between truthful and deceptive subjects, and worse,  interrogators who’d been trained to pick up ‘deception cues’ were less accurate, though more confident in their incorrect findings!

As well as not caring,  it seems that successful  lying takes practice.  An e-how guide (that I can no longer locate online, truly) provides a 13 step process to follow. It acknowledges but does not address the moral issues. They are for you to resolve. However the first step is to ‘be at peace with your lie’ (got that George? Craig?)  It does say (at point 13) that a couple of  deceptive practices, especially financial  fraud, really are out of bounds. Really.

I guess it all comes down to  what you can get away with. I look forward to Craig Thomson’s forthcoming address to Parliament .


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This entry was posted on 16/05/2012 by in Audience connection, Presenting a speech, Public speaking, Speaking to Camera.

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