“You can always tell when he’s lying to you — his mouth is moving.”
Has anyone lied to you today?
Have you loosed a zinger yourself?
Do you have a sophisticated grading system for your own non-truths, so you can ameliorate any guilt you feel when you only lie a little tiny bit? Or only lie to, you know, spare someone pain? Or keep them blissfully in the dark?
I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about lies and the miserable bastard weasels who use them as tools for doing business and for controlling their social lives.
One of the hardest lessons to learn, while I was sculpting my career, was how to deal with lies. In all their myriad forms and nuances.
I hung out with shrinks as much as I could — both as paid listeners and as biz colleagues (cuz most psychologists desperately want out of the job of professionally raking the muck in other people’s brains and hearts… and every time one would sense an opening through Halbert or me into the entrepreneurial world, they jumped at it). (Some of the weirdest stories I have entail shrinks and marketing misadventures.)
Dudes who study human behavior (and all its sordid and disheartening variations) professionally know some amazing things about people. For a salesman, this is fabulous insider knowledge, and we crave and seek it.
And one of the main things I picked up from a shrink wannabe-entrepreneur… was his idea of how to divide the human population into three basic categories:
1. Those who saw the world as mostly safe…
2. Those who saw the world as mostly dangerous…
3. And those who had a well-defined, balanced view of things as they really are.
This last group might well be called “adults”. Not as in “you’re just turned 21, so you’re now an adult”… but rather “you’re the only guy in the room who isn’t driven and tortured by demons, guilt and sick needs.”
I must say: Growing up as I did… snug in the biggest bulge of the post-war Baby Boom and nurtured by parents devoted to giving their kids a real childhood (without spoiling us)… I treated the entire world around me as a big, mostly-safe playground. I easily took too many risks, pulled too many completely stupid stunts, and contantly put myself and others in situations where somebody could have gotten seriously hurt or killed.
Living through it made us stronger. Amazingly, no one suffered any permanent damage (other than a few nasty scars, busted bones and popped vertebrae).
My cousins (co-agents of adventure with me throughout childhood) and I are just stunned by the leeway we were given: We absolutely had to be home at certain hours, and we never dared break that taboo. We had to be polite to grown-ups, and do what we were told. We had a few chores here and there, and any added responsibilities that came up were to be done without complaint.
Other than that… we were like little Viking mauraders, unleashed on the neighborhoods to pillage and lay waste to everything we could tear up, burn, or steal.
Mom would wave goodbye on a typical summer day, warn us to be home for lunch… and then she would not have a clue where we were or what we were doing for the next four hours. We’d show up, dirty and panting (and maybe a little bloody), gobble food, and leave again until dinner.
No questions asked, no information offered.
The world was ours. As far as the folks were concerned, kids needed to be kids… and you just sort of hoped some sense or help from angels or something would intervene in any serious danger.
(Once, exploring New York City with my pal David Deutsch, we started chatting with a couple eating pizza next to us, because David has a couple of kids nearly the age of their two young boys. I was shocked to learn that the oldest boy — who was almost thirteen — had NEVER been out of their Manhattan apartment without adult supervision. NEVER! They talked excitedly about maybe allowing him to take a walk around the block or even — gasp! — ride the subway for a stop or two… alone. Maybe they’d let him do that, in the near future. Maybe. I’m still stunned at that — kids growing up without the space to get in trouble, and figure out how to get OUT of that trouble. I don’t think that’s a make-up skill you can master very easily, once you’re an adult…)
Anyway, my point is that I grew up with this possibly exaggerated sense of how safe the world was. This caused some problems as I got old enough to drive… and challenge other boys for the right to date some girls… and try to find my place in the hive.
We started losing friends in car crashes. I myself was in around a dozen bloody wrecks before I left college, and I’m pretty sure our Boomer sense of invulnerability was behind our dumbest choices and decisions.
I was in high school before I started realizing that some of the other kids didn’t share my sense of entitlement to enjoy the wonders of the world. They were hostile to the idea of unfettered adventure, or had such strict home rules they never dared dream of going out at night to see what might happen… or, sometimes, they just seemed cowed and broken.
Like the weight of the world was crushing them.
I even went out of my way to make friends with some depressed kids, and drug them into my social circle almost as a sponsor. But there was always some horrible secret burning inside them, and they tended to suck energy out of the room rather than supply energy.
Many years later — after life had delivered some very adult-like blows to my self-esteem — I got a good taste of what depression could do to you. It tightened you up, bled you of vigor, and exhausted your heart just getting through a day. Fun was hard to come by.
The world seemed… hostile.
I have empathy for people in all the categories now. Been there, felt that, survived all of it.
Makes you humble. And gives you insight.
The world, as I now clearly see it, is both dangerous and delightful… often at the same time. I hitch-hiked for years without problem (and with a novel’s worth of adventure) before I even knew what a serial killer was. Can’t even imagine doing it now. Can’t believe I never had any trouble before. Would NOT recommend it to anyone today.
There are dark alleys, here and there, you can wander through without fear. Mostly, though, I avoid them all. (I’ve been writing for the self-defense market too long, perhaps… seen too much of the bad side of people.)
I have no allusions of safety among my fellow citizens. Nor do I keep a loaded pistol next to my bed, though. (I prefer the baseball bat.)
What’s all this got to do with lying?
See, when the world seems safe, you don’t look for lies. You take people at face value, and accept statements as either true or possibly true until they are proven otherwise.
This seemed like a great way to move through the world, for a long time.
Once I went deep into the business world, however, I realized I was being seen as a fool for having so much trust in other people. I started encountering whole roomfuls of folks who considered everything you said an outrageous lie until you could be proven to have told the truth.
Lying as the default position?
This was like Alice in Wonderland for me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to live in a world where you couldn’t trust most folks, most of the time.
It felt too… lonely. Like it was you against the world, every second of the day.
Fortunately, I soon discovered a whole segment of business people who felt as I did. Except, they had developed a kind of “lie radar” inside their intuition that operated 24/7, quietly and in the background.
They would always entertain whatever they were told as true, but not act until they got the report from their “lie radar”. It might start with a feeling, that you followed with a little easy research or a phone call to someone who might confirm or deny certain elements, followed with some mild questioning of the speaker.
I liked this approach. It didn’t matter if the other guy was lying through his teeth, because I wasn’t gonna act one way or another on what he said until I verified it. There was ALWAYS something positive to pull from any meeting or experience in business… even if what I pulled from it was a little practice in being patient, and testing my immediate intuition against hard-core research into facts.
I don’t feel so lonely, as I would if I walked around (like many folks I know) assuming that everyone was lying through their teeth, and out to get me.
I probably get “taken” a few more times than the paranoid dude… but I’ll enjoy my calmer life (full of friends who share my worldview of “mostly not dangerous”) and accept the occasional screwing like a man. (Besides — I’ve also noticed, in my long career, that the pissed-off, brick-on-shoulder guy always looking for the scam also gets tricked fairly often anyway. His snarling defenses are like an empty moat, as worthless against a skilled liar as the most gullible dude around.)
I get irked when people lie. Don’t get me wrong.
But I don’t take it personally (unless it IS personal) (which hasn’t happened to me in decades).
People lie. For all kinds of reasons. They can’t handle getting yelled at, they’re just trying to spin things so they don’t look like idiots, they think they can avoid responsibility or consequences… it’s a long list.
Some do it just because they can.
Others do it to position themselves.
And when you think about it… once you get over the myth that lying is an aberration in human behavior, and realize that most folks waddle through their day weaving one tall tale after another (often for reasons they can’t even fathom themselves)… there’s little downside to conducting yourself with full knowledge that everyone around you is delivering a soupy mix of truth, half-truth, and damned lies every single day.
Heck — James Bond, one of my literary heroes, was a professional liar. Just part of his toolkit for survival. I have friends who exaggerate so much, you start to doubt every detail they offer in a story… and yet, they remain friends. I just work a tiny bit harder to find the nuggets of truth in what they say, and ignore the fluff.
I’ve been a lifelong fan of tall tales, too. I’ll add a few outrageous details to a story, just to emphasize some angle, or to call attention to the absurdity or irony of a plot twist. (“The poodle was, like, twelve hundred pounds. Couldn’t fit through the door.” “We loved going spelunking in the county sewer pipes, where you could walk for miles in six-foot diameter tunnels in pitch darkness. Sometimes, we’d lose one of the kids if he fell behind. I’m sure there’s at least one of them still down there, turned into a troll.”)
Professionally, however, I have developed a sharp ear for red flag lying, after years in the smoldering center of the biz world. Sometimes it’s just a tiny blip on my “lie radar”… a tick that others can’t even detect.
This happened last week, when one of my assistants related the “confirmation” of all email problems being fixed by an Infusion customer service rep. To my ass’t, the FUBAR situation must have been cleared up, because the CSR weasel told him it was.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Tell me exactly what that ‘confirmation’ was.”
“He confirmed all was okay,” said my ass’t, confidently. “He said everything should be fixed now.”
“Terminate the batch emailing,” I ordered. “Right fucking NOW.”
One weasel word, which slipped by less experienced ears, froze my gut.
And, it turned out, I was right to be alarmed. The bug wasn’t fixed at all, and if we hadn’t terminated the job, tens of thousands of blank emails would have gone out… ruining my reputation and denting our credibility. (As it was, several thousand did get out… thanks to the lying little CSR weasel at Infusion.)
Words matter. Doctors repeated told my family — back when my Mom took sick — that they were “confident” they could predict how the cancer would take her out. Six months, for sure, some said. Three months, said others.
This didn’t sit right with me. I dug deeper, and discovered than four different docs had four different ideas of what KIND of cancer she had. Bone. Breast. Liver. Lung.
They were lying.
They didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.
We didn’t ask them for a prediction of when it would be over. They just offered it.
What IS it about so many people… that they are simply incapable of saying “I don’t know”?
I have searched in vain, my entire career, for the answer to that ridiculous question.
There is no shame in not knowing an answer.
And yet, to my mind, there is TERRIFIC shame in making something up, as if your imagination and your desire to be a know-it-all trumped reality.
Lying is all around us.
It’s a piss-poor way to get through a situation, but some forms of lying are just built into the human hard drive.
Work on your own “lie radar”. Simply make a mental note of what someone tells you, and then check it out. They don’t need to know what you discover. But you do.
You don’t “win” anything by confronting a liar, most of the time. Many people cannot abide by what they consider an affront against Truth, and they will verbally assault anyone they catch lying. As if the universe will not be right until the lie is confronted, confessed, and scorched by the light of day.
And these avengers lustily engage in lie-witch-hunts while ignoring their own culpubility in twisting things once in a while.
It’s not your job to set everything straight in the world. In my experience, liars don’t often “get away” with much, over the long haul. They may see short-term benefits, but they’re living a spiritually unhealthy life… and it catches up with you, eventually.
The Zen warrior would rather learn the truth in secret, than share in a communal lie. That can be lonely… but when you surround yourself with honorable people, the truth is always welcome, and you can even forgive small transgressions (since you don’t act on their version of things without fact-checking everything first, anyway).
Sure, it’s complex. Tangled webs and all that.
Work on your intuitive radar.
All top marketers possess it… and most became good at it only after years of disciplined practice and follow-through.
P.S. Just a small warning — the slots in the “Launching Pad” consulting program are dwindling, especially in the near-term.
To see how you can be “John’s New Best Friend” for a month, and get unbelievable personal access to me (and Stan) while going deep into your biz and plans, go to:
And see what’s going on. It’s intense mentoring, as the folks who’ve been through it will tell you.
And I ain’t lying.
P.P.S. One last thing — for folks like Karen, who aren’t getting their email notifications when I blog (thanks, Infusion)… just remember that I’m being fairly faithful to a Monday-Thursday schedule. I blog on Monday, and then again on Thursday of each week.
That’s the plan.
Rain or shine. (Though I did miss a couple during the heavy traveling days recently.)
So go ahead and drop by, even if you haven’t gotten an email.
I’m always dinking around here with some idea or notion or whatever…
"11 Really Stupid Blunders You're Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now."
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That is an interesting blog. This lying tendency that we as humans have, is something that I have been grappling with for quite some time now.
I had an Ah Ha moment in business, when I realized that during positional bargaining and negotiation, and studies verify this, that 100% percent of people lie. They all engage in some form of: misrepresentation of their position, bluffing, falsification, deception or selective disclosure.
It is generally accepted that the essence of positional bargaining and negotiating is deception.
In fact, anybody that doesn’t actively engaged in misleading their opponents while negotiating is considered a fool.
Of course, everything that is said as per the contract, terms and conditions etc, is straight up or else!!! But the money bit at the end, the bargaining… different rules apply.
Is this the one circumstance where it is actually ok to lie????
This question has been eating me up. What I’ve come to realize through further research is that life and the world as we know could not function without some degree of lying.
Some studies say that we all lie as much as 14 times a week. (Actually, it was an American study… I’m sure we don’t lie that much down here in New Zealand. lol. just joking with you, we’re no different).
So my question to John and the forum: Is this the one circumstance where it is actually ok to lie???? What do you guy’s think?
Great post John.
I get so sick and tired of lying to cover ignorance as well. It seems that it comes down to no one wanting to take responsibilty.
And the funny thing is, being honest and admitting faults (not knowing an answer to something) seems to be the quickest way to build trust.
It’s so EASY to just be honest. I’ve found that when you grow up, take responsibilty for something, people gravitate towards you. They LIKE you.
The best part now is that since so few people step up to the plate to stop making excuses, it’s easier for us that do to steal customers.
As far as relationships? People are not that stupid. When you lie to someone you have a relationship with, their “idiot” radar goes up. They may not be able to vocalize why they don’t trust you, but there it is all the same.
And the damage is done just as bad anyway.
Anyway, . . . kudos.
Nathan Stockwell (Your conservative champion)
John Carlton writes:
Thanks, Nathan. I meant to make that point, and didn’t. It IS easier — and mentally healthier — to be a truth teller.
But humans have never been prone to take the easy path, when a more complex, dangerous and trouble-creating path is available…
Thanks for your wise words over the years! Your teachings have put ten of thousands of dollars into my clients’ bank accounts and made me a hell of a lot too.
Anyway, this whole “should” thing got me thinking.
Reminds me of the time I first visited a new mate of mine. He had a dog called Dozer. A big, black snarling beast, half Rottweiler, half Bull-Mastiff. Didn’t like people much.
Anyway, I get over to my mate’s house and Dozer is snarling at the gate, just ready to rip my arms off.
I yell out to my friend who is sitting on the front steps and asked him does Dozer bite and is it okay to come in.
My mate’s answer?
“Yeah come in! You should be okay!”
That wasn’t the answer I was looking for!
John, You’re right on about the lying public. I’ve had clients that I consulted with, and I was helping them in one area, when I should have been helping them in another.
Your story of your early years brought back some great memories from my own–thanks! I sometimes think ours was the last generation that was allowed to have real fun and build our imaginations. When I look back now, though, I am amazed we all survived largely intact, given some of the things we used to do. But it was fun, regardless.
As for lying: after being “trained” to it as a kid, I refuse to do it now. My fiancee is always hollering at me for being too honest (“Everyone else lies; why shouldn’t you?”) but I don’t, to the best of my ability. To me, lying denotes a lack of integrity, both towards myself and others, so I strive to be truthful without hurting feelings.
I am not 100% successful at it. But where my clients are concerned, they know I will give it to them straight. Anything less would put me out of business.
Perhaps due to my “training”, my Lie Detector is usually dead on. I can tell a lie from a truthful statement because they FEEL different, if you know what I mean.
Thanks for the thoughts. I enjoy reading your blog.
Accepting things as true and checking up on it seems to be a wise system to perfect our lie radar. It seems that some people have a keener discernment for things and folks. I don’t know if I do. I frequently find myself acting naive. But I don’t want to go skeptical over everyone either. I feel wiser…
Thanks for the post
Shocks me …
I had almost the identical experience to you as a baby boomer – right smack in the best part of it.
After the war, our parents wanted to create a atmosphere full of love and good things – the diametric opposite to the horror of what they had just been through.
Yes, they passionately wanted to make it all good pink and rosy, and we were the fortunate beneficiaries.
Hah! My mother too never know where we were during the weekends.
Lies? I don’t think anyone lies more or less than they did, but the pressure to do so is greater now.
Never fear though, I still have faith in human nature. The good times always return one way or another – seems that is the natural state of things.