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The anatomy of deception

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Why Leaders Lie, a slim volume that tells the truth about lying, offers these basic definitions:

On the one hand, there is truth telling, which is when a person tries to state plain facts and tell a story directly and honestly.

On the other, there is deception, which includes lying, spinning and concealment. Deception is designed to prevent others from knowing the truth.

To break down deception further:

Lying is when someone knowingly makes a false statement in the hope that others will believe it’s true. It is a purposeful action intended to deceive. People lie when they use information, true or false, to lead the listener to a false conclusion.

Spinning is different from lying, although the lines may be blurred. Spinning is about playing up or down the facts to present your position in a good light. It’s advocacy to the point of exaggeration. It’s a distortion that stops short of being false.  

Tiger Woods described spinning when he said, “I’ve learned you can always tell the truth, but you don’t have to tell the whole truth.”

Concealment is withholding in­for­mation that might undermine or weaken your position.

When leaders spin or conceal facts, they aren’t lying, but neither are they being truthful.

— Adapted from Why Leaders Lie, John J. Mearsheimer, Oxford University Press.

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