White Lies

Hope Hicks Acknowledges She Sometimes Tells White Lies For Trump”, Nicholas Fandos, February 27, The New York Times.

And thereby Hicks, now former White House communications director, ended her ability to convince anyone to believe what she says. Forever.

That’s the odd thing about admitting you are willing to lie in your official government communications. Or in any communication. No more trust.

Then there’s the white lie thing. Google’s dictionary defines white lie as “a harmless or trivial lie, especially one told to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.” Few would call official lying about major government issues ‘trivial’. You can make a case, I suppose, that she did do it to ‘avoid hurting someone’s feelings’.

Generally lying is done to deliberately mislead people about something. But sometimes people truly believe what they say even when the evidence right in front of them is at odds with their words.

A few years ago I wrote about this in great detail. As the liars among us seemingly multiply, and with the consequences of their lies rising ever higher, my message bears repeating…with a few little updates.

I told the story of how Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, claimed he ran a marathon in “less than three hours.” A computerized timer of the race proved differently. His time was actually over four hours.

The quest to appear better than we are leads to all kinds of factual manipulations. And eventually, after multiple instances of telling ourselves, and others, the same “white lies”, we come to believe they are true. My father had a name for oft-repeated lies and distortions a person shares about themselves…confabulation. I remember well the intent look in his eye and harsh tone of his voice when he discussed confabulators and the problems they cause.

Confabulation: an unconscious process of creating a narrative that the narrator believes is true but that is demonstrably false.

A bit of puffery about how fast you ran a marathon isn’t such a big deal in and of itself. But at what stage does confabulation become a problem? If you can convince yourself that you ran more than 25% faster than you actually did, can you convince yourself the cost of some project will be 25% less than the facts show it will be? Or 25% more?

At what point does inflating your resume or work history move from an innocent mistake to a firing offense? If you have a reputation for confabulation, at what point do the people you work with and manage realize that nothing you say can be believed until they check the facts? Even worse for you is the general lack of trust confabulation engenders. If someone often mentions their Harvard years when they dropped out during their first semester what else are they misleading you about?

If you have a confabulator working for you, beware. If you oversee managers who confabulate, beware even more.

And if it’s you that confabulates often and that regularly tells people to trust you…just remember the lesson of Hope Hicks.


And here’s the link if you’d like to read the original version of Truth or Confabulation.







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  1. “If someone often mentions their Harvard years when they dropped out during their first semester what else are they misleading you about?”

    Bill Gates – We make really good stuff.
    Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook is good for humanity.

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